Milan on the brink of clinching Champions League football

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Serie AAssociatedCan AC Milan hold their nerve to clinch UCL qualification?

In a season of transition that was dubbed "Year Zero" following the departure of numerous iconic figures last summer, Milan prepare for the visit of Roma this weekend on the cusp of securing Champions League football for next year.

An opening day defeat to Sampdoria set the trend for the early months of the campaign, leading many to suggest that not only was Massimiliano Allegri's future uncertain, but the club's participation in Europe was also in doubt.

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As the weeks passed, the Rossoneri continued to dwell in the bottom half of the table as their rivals benefited from their demise, blowing the race for the much coveted third and final Champions League spot wide open.

As a result, the media criticised the transfer strategy and questioned the ambition and future of the club, yet the supporters stayed close to the team, regularly showing their support for both the players and their beleaguered coach through testing times.

While there is still a sense of disappointment having failed to launch a genuine title bid this season, the turnaround has been remarkable as Milan made their ascent up the table and fought their way back into contention for a place in Europe.

Suffering such a troubled start to the season will be seen as the cause for a below par campaign, but the positives that have emerged this year perhaps outweigh the negatives.

Having benefited from the rise to prominence of Stephen El Shaarawy through the first half of the campaign, the January arrival of Mario Balotelli helped provide the additional boost that was required to maintain their improved standing in Serie A.

The emergence of the likes of Mattia De Sciglio and Riccardo Montolivo as pillars of the club moving forward has also given renewed hope that this current squad are capable of challenging for honours next season.

Confirmation of a place in the Champions League will of course also justify and support the cuts made to the wage bill, avoiding any financial repercussions. Having sold prized assets with the aim of improving the financial health of the club, the absence of Champions League income could have deemed it a futile exercise.

However, collectively, the squad reacted to adversity in the best possible way and are now a solitary victory away from rescuing a season that had at one point looked bleak. With Fiorentina playing prior to kick-off at San Siro, the task could be made even simpler should they fail to win.

"We still have to win a match, a victory that we hope to get on Sunday against Roma that would mathematically guarantee us third place in the league," Allegri told reporters after the mid-week win over Pescara.

Should the Viola win, Milan's season boils down to ninety minutes of football that will prevent any last day drama unfolding.

Many will argue that this season has still been a failure, or at least a forgettable one. However, should the Rossoneri win on Sunday night and thus clinch their place among Europe's elite next season, it should be a well celebrated feat that few could have envisaged as being possible back in the dark days of early November.

Can Milan seal it on Sunday? What has been the defining factor in their hunt for Champions League football?

For all the latest Milan and Serie A news, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

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