AC Milan's match against Atalanta at the San Siro today was to have been the final bow of the short, exciting, glitzy two months in Italy for David Beckham before he returned to spring in California. The loan spell has now become a "timeshare" as Beckham's advisors, Milan and the Los Angeles Galaxy are calling the player's extended arrangement. By the end of the Italian season it might seem more like a slog. Though Beckham's time in Milan has been personally successful - he has scored, created and played in the vast majority of minutes he has been fit - he has also watched the club's targets for the campaign gradually diminish.
A long way behind in the title race, out of the Uefa Cup, and beaten in the city derby, the timeshare Milan are now involved in with the former England captain until mid-May has a single aim: to qualify for the next Champions League. They go into today's match as concerned about being caught up as catching up on second-placed Juventus. A clutch of other clubs can aspire to finish third instead of Milan, thus guaranteeing a berth in the group stages of Europe's principal competition - and its income - in September.
It has been a wretched fortnight for Milan, and the impetus to recover form and energy cannot simply be provided by the knowledge that Beckham will now regularly be providing his ammunition from the right. The coach Carlo Ancelotti is expected to line up Alexandre Pato and Pippo Inzaghi to meet those crosses and hopes either Kaka or Ronaldinho, both recovering from injury, can play a part. Meanwhile, the Napoli coach Edy Reja came out in defence of Ezequiel Lavezzi as he prepared his team for today's Serie A match against Lazio. The Argentine forward has failed to score since Jan 31.
"We are used to seeing Lavezzi put in great performances," said Reja. "But he cannot always play at a top level. What I want from him is that he continues to play as he is doing, controlling the ball, maintaining his vision of play and to keep working for the team." Lack of goals has been Napoli's main problem of late, they have scored just twice in their last four games. Last Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Juventus was their eighth consecutive game without a win and they have dropped to 11th in the table.
Their poor run has seen their European ambitions slowly fade and put Reja under pressure. firstname.lastname@example.org