Juventus out to humble Milan
AC Milan's joy at qualifying for the Champions League could be tempered by a desperate need for points in Italy's Serie A, and the formidable challenge of on-form visitors Juventus on Sunday.
Seven-time winners Milan beat Serie A champions Juventus into the last 16 of Europe's premier club competition with victory over Anderlecht on Wednesday.
But the Rossoneri's feat in Brussels will do little to hide the fact their domestic form, compared to the Turin giants, leaves a lot to be desired.
After 13 games, Milan sit in the bottom half of the table with a 17-point deficit on Juventus (32), who have a four-point lead on Inter Milan with Napoli and Fiorentina a point further adrift in third and fourth.
Indeed, if not for the goalscoring talents of forward Stephan El Shaarawy, who has a league-leading tally of 10 goals – half of Milan's total – the red and black would be in even worse shape.
"Is El Shaarawy the Milan team? He's the one making the difference for them so, yes, I'd say he is," Juventus forward Sebastian Giovinco told juventus.com.
Juve, on the other hand, could not be more comfortable.
Since suffering their first defeat in 50 games nearly three weeks ago, they have accounted for Pescara (6-1), dominated Lazio in a scoreless draw and left Chelsea's Champions League hopes hanging by a thread after a 3-0 rout on Wednesday.
In the corresponding fixture with Milan last year Juventus prevailed 2-1 at the San Siro, with Milan holding the Old Lady to a 1-1 draw in Turin in February.
Milan defender Mattia De Sciglio said: "Sunday's match against Juventus will be tough, especially with what happened last year. They're one of the best teams in Italy."
Since their 3-1 reverse at home against Inter Milan, Juventus have been virtually unbeatable.
But what is billed as one of the biggest derbies in Italian football will be hard to predict. In their 77 previous Serie A matches at the San Siro Milan have won 26 times with Juve winning 18 and 33 matches ending in draws.
Coach Antonio Conte, whose lengthy touchline ban ends next month, is taking nothing for granted.
"We have an important game on Sunday against a Milan side that isn't currently challenging at the top, but they still have a squad brimming with quality," he said.
"We're top of the league, but we still haven't achieved anything and still have qualification to secure in the Champions League."
Juventus face Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukraine in two weeks hoping for at least a draw as they look to make the Champions League knockout phase for the first time since 2009.
A Juventus win on Sunday, meanwhile, would extend their lead over Inter to seven points ahead of the Nerazzurri's trip to Parma on Monday, when Cagliari host Napoli.
Parma, who sit in ninth, will be hoping for at least a share of the points although Inter have at least two reasons to think otherwise.
Inter are still fuming after being held to a 2-2 draw at home to Cagliari last week when they they were denied a valid penalty claim late in the match. Inter also suffered a 1-0 Europa League defeat Thursday to Rubin Kazan.
Coach Andrea Stramaccioni will sit out a one-match suspension, handed down after he insulted the referee following the Cagliari game while striker Antonio Cassano begins the first of his two-game ban, handed down for the same reason.
Palermo v Catania (1845)
Chievo v Siena
Pescara v Roma
Sampdoria v Bologna
Torino v Fiorentina
Atalanta v Genoa
AC Milan v Juventus
Cagliari v Napoli, Parma v Inter
Lazio v Udinese