ROME, December 18 – AC Milan face a tough trip away to fellow Champions League second round qualifiers Fiorentina on Saturday as they bid to keep pace with leaders Inter Milan ahead of the Christmas break in Serie A.Inter, who host struggling Lazio on Sunday, lead Milan by five points with Juventus a further point back in third.
But following last week’s shock 2-0 defeat at home to Palermo, the pressure is on Milan to avoid a morale-sapping gap opening up ahead of the New Year.
Following this week’s games, Serie A takes a two and a half week break, by which time the January transfer window will be open.
Former England captain David Beckham will rejoin Milan in January but if the club find themselves eight points adrift at that stage — which could happen if they lose in Florence — any hopes of a first title since 2004 would be looking remote.
Fiorentina are themselves in a tight battle for fourth spot and Champions League football next season and will be just as desperate as Milan to make amends for their 2-1 defeat at Chievo last week.
Chievo, alongside Fiorentina, are one of nine teams separated by just two points from fifth down to 13th.
A defeat for Milan could even see them dragged down into that dogfight for European football next season and boss Leonardo will be hoping that his three-pronged strikeforce can rediscover it’s goalscoring touch on Saturday.
Ronaldinho is sure he will be able to repay his coach’s faith.
The Brazilian has enjoyed a return to form this season — even if his once effective burst of acceleration is gone — after two difficult campaigns.
"I have the backing of the coach and I’m playing the same game I did when I was at Barcelona," he claimed.
"Both the club and the fans are behind me and that’s making things easier. This is a perfect moment for me, I feel good physically and mentally."
A week ago things looked good for Milan. They were on a five-match winning streak and had qualified for the Champions League knock-out stages.
And with Inter dropping two points away to Atalanta, it should have been the opportunity to close the gap at the top to two points.
Inter host Lazio, who sit just three points above the relegation zone, with coach Jose Mourinho already thinking ahead to the African Cup of Nations when he will lose Samuel Eto’o and Sulley Muntari.
Mourinho would like to bring in reinforcements up front but admits it is unlikely.
"I’ll still have (Ricardo) Quaresma, who although not a striker is an option in attack," he said.
"But I’m ready to plough on without any new signings. The club put in a lot of effort in the summer (buying five players) and I can’t ask for any more."
Juventus face rock-bottom Catania on Sunday but goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is out after surgery on his knee and winger Mauro Camoranesi faces two months out with a thigh problem.
Fourth-placed Parma travel to fifth-placed AS Roma in a battle for Champions League qualification while second-from-bottom Siena could move out of the relegation zone if they record a third straight win away to Palermo.
Bologna v Atalanta, Fiorentina v AC Milan
Genoa v Bari, Inter Milan v Lazio, Juventus v Catania, Livorno v Sampdoria, Napoli v Chievo, Palermo v Siena, AS Roma v Parma, Udinese v Cagliari