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Milan focus on Champions League return

AC Milan face a tough trip to Napoli as they continue their push for a top three finish and automatic entry into next season's Champions League group stages.

sports Updated: Mar 20, 2009 12:54 IST

AC Milan face a tough trip to Napoli as they continue their push for a top three finish and automatic entry into next season's Champions League group stages.

Milan finished fifth in Serie A a year ago and spent this season in exile in the UEFA Cup until they were knocked out by Werder Bremen at the end of last month.

But now, according to injured midfield general Gennaro Gattuso, the Italian giants are focussed on securing a top three finish.

While Milan may have failed to put up a championship fight this season -- they trail leaders and city rivals Inter by 12 points -- Gattuso is convinced that they would have succeeded where their neighbours failed and beaten Manchester United in the Champions League.

"If Milan had come up against Manchester we would have beaten them," he said. "In one-off matches we can achieve the unexpected.

"But for us right now the most important thing is getting back into the Champions League, a year in the UEFA Cup has hurt us."

The clash in Naples will be the latest step in achieving that objective and they will be looking to maintain their six-point lead over fourth placed Genoa, who host Udinese.

But Gattuso is expecting a rejuvenated Napoli under former Italy coach and Milan midfielder Roberto Donadoni, who is taking charge of his first home match.

Napoli have not won in 10 league matches but the mood around the camp has improved since Donadoni's arrival.

"Donadoni's arrival will have made things even harder but if we win then third place is in the bag," said Gattuso, who is not likely to play again this season due to a cruciate knee ligament injury sustained in December.

The big match of the weekend will take place at Rome's Stadio Olimpico as AS Roma host Juventus.

Before the season began this match would have been viewed as potentially a crucial one in the title race but Roma's disastrous start to the season sees them arrive at this juncture with their eyes set firmly on clinching fourth place, not the title.

They trail Genoa in that race by two points but have stuttered recently, drawing their last three matches and winning only two of the last seven.

Juventus, in stark contrast, have won four in a row and are still dreaming of a first scudetto crown since 2003, having had their 2005 and 2006 titles stripped due to match-fixing.

Midfielder Claudio Marchisio, an increasingly important part of the team with Malian Momo Sissoko out injured, believes Juventus can still pull back the seven-point gap to Inter.

The two sides meet in Turin in four weeks.

"We've having a great season and we are going to keep on believing right to the end," he said.

"There are still a lot of points to play for and Inter are starting to feel tired after all their matches.

"This is a decisive moment, we need to look for a maximum of points in our next three matches against Roma, Chievo and Genoa so we can be in the best possible position when we play the leaders."

Inter host rock bottom Reggina on Sunday and will be odds on to come away from that with three points, particularly since star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic put his European disappointment behind him with a brace last weekend in the 2-0 win over Fiorentina.

First Published: Mar 20, 2009 12:52 IST