Milan – AC Milan need only a point against Ajax on Wednesday to secure entry to the last 16 of the Champions League, but embattled coach Massimiliano Allegri is taking nothing for granted.
For the second consecutive season Milan's run-in to Christmas is anything but festive: they currently sit ninth in Serie A, 22
points behind leaders Juventus and 14 adrift of the first Champions League qualifying spot.
With Ajax conceding only three defeats on their way to second place in the Dutch top flight, Allegri says it would be a mistake to underestimate Frank De Boer's side, who, with a win, would qualify.
“Ajax have shown some great form of late and they have great technique throughout the team. We have to have the right attitude against them and, above all, score goals,” said the Italian.
Milan's 3-0 rout of Celtic in Scotland a fortnight ago, when Ajax stunned Barcelona 2-1 in Amsterdam to stay in contention, kept the Italian giants in second place in Group H with a one-point lead on the Dutchmen.
It means the seven-time European champions need just a point at the San Siro to join leaders Barcelona in the knockout phase.
But despite Ajax's mediocre away form in the competition - they have not won any of their last six away fixtures - Milan are not entertaining playing for a draw, and hope to draw on the current form of striker Mario Balotelli.
Balotelli last week ended a two-month goal drought in Serie A when he scored Milan's second in a 3-1 win away to basement side Catania.
On Saturday the 23-year-old scored twice, including a stunning free kick from distance seven minutes from time, in a 2-2 draw away to Livorno and could have had a hat-trick only for a looping drive smack off the crossbar at the death.
While pundits in Italy suggest his purple patch is down to Allegri's demand for more “consistency” and “intensity”, Balotelli was dismissive.
“The goals had dried up, that was all. Tonight I scored two, I could have had three,” said Balotelli, who saved Milan's blushes in Amsterdam with an injury-time penalty which secured a precious 1-1
Instead, Balotelli sent out a message ahead of Wednesday's decider when he underlined the defensive lapses that have seen Milan's drop precious points throughout the season.
“The team is playing quite well, we're finding the goals that just weren't coming before,” said Balotelli.
“But we need to pay more attention when other teams are on the counter-attack. Every time they shoot, they score.” – Sapa-AFP