All roads lead to Florence as Milan embark on the first part of a three-game journey that could well define their season. Napoli and Juventus await, but first Fiorentina stand in the way of three crucial points. Can the Rossoneri take a huge step towards Champions League football this weekend?
It's third against fourth at the Artemio Franchi on Sunday as Milan face a Fiorentina side harbouring hopes of pinching Massimiliano Allegri's reservation at Europe's top table next season.
-- Milan's Pazzini fit to play
Vincenzo Montella has been lauded for his philosophy in Florence, as he assembles a squad swarming with technically gifted individuals. Capable of playing some of the most entertaining football in Italy's top tier, one of their main issues this season has been inconsistency.
However, in arguably Milan’s worst game of the campaign in the midst of their early season struggles, the Rossoneri were horribly outplayed at San Siro in a 3-1 defeat.
Lacking cohesion as well as direction, it encapsulated everything wrong with the team in 90 minutes, allowing for further appreciation of how far they have come in the last three months.
Montella received a blow in mid-week with the news that Stevan Jovetic has been ruled out for a fortnight, yet despite the Montenegrin’s absence they remain a very dangerous side, particularly at home.
The importance of the game has been evident within the Milan camp all week, with Adriano Galliani orchestrating the band stating that all matches are important at this stage of the season, but “when you play direct competitors, the points are worth double”.
Massimo Ambrosini echoed his thoughts and reiterated that the hard work is not over, emphasising that Milan need to “put the icing on the cake of a surprising season”. Any game against Juventus is of great importance, but facing the Viola and then Napoli will be decisive in the race for Champions League football.
Fresh from hearing his captain’s words, Mattia De Sciglio added that the next three games "are really fundamental", but is confident that his team-mates will continue to grow and maintain what has been an incredible run since the turn of the year.
Historically, Milan fare well on trips to the Franchi as they are unbeaten there since 2005 with four wins and two draws since. Last season’s corresponding fixture ended goal-less, but the Rossoneri will be confident of extending their ruthless streak to make it five consecutive league wins and move nine points clear of their opponents.
It may yet be too premature to be labelling games decisive with eight games of the season remaining, but victory on Sunday would go a long way to creating a potentially unassailable lead over a direct rival.
Allegri has an almost full strength squad at his disposal, and would have read Stephan El Shaarawy’s interview in La Gazzetta dello Sport this past week.
The 20-year-old responded to the criticism and questions surrounding his on-field chemistry with Mario Balotelli. Despite fitness and form conspiring against him in recent weeks, Milan will need both men to deliver on Sunday as they aim to take another step towards their European ambitions.
What is your prediction for Sunday? Where will the game be won or lost for Milan?
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