MILAN // Having conquered the capital city clubs of Italy and Spain, just about the best thing to bring AC Milan down to earth is a trip to the provincial suburbs. "Welcome back to your Serie A reality, red-carpet rossoneri," Chievo's few, but loyal fans will declare tonight in Verona. The reality is that a home win could very easily pitch Milan into the bottom half of the Italian first division again and transform a celebratory mood into a crisis.
It has been a heady seven days for Leonardo's team, and for their head coach. A week ago, his job was under threat. Victory over Roma, achieved from an early setback of a goal down at San Siro gave him enough credit probably to survive a widely anticipated defeat at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in the Champions League, but there Milan produced another dramatic recovery, 3-2 winners after again going behind.
They had never triumphed at the home of the nine-time European champions in a competitive fixture before, though it is not so much that milestone that motivated the back-slapping and as the relief that a growing crisis had been averted. Vice-president Adriano Galliani set the tone with his statements on Milan's club website. "We have written a memorable page in the history of football," he trumpeted, "and done so displaying passion and flair." Gratefully, he added to fans: "Thank you for your trust."
In fact, that trust is not absolute. Some very good fortune aided Milan both against Roma and Real, both of whom were left muttering about unawarded penalties. Milan's perform-ances were accomplished only in parts and featured bad errors, by Thiago Silva for Roma's goal in Milan, and by Dida for Raul's opening strike for Real last Wednesday. There remains an insecurity Milan that the mascara of two courageous fight backs can hardly disguise.
With Marco Storari still injured, and Christian Abbiati also out, Dida is expected to continue deputising for the trip to Chievo. "Dida is an experienced and very able goalkeeper," said Leonardo, "and I am sure he knows how to move on from one mistake." The coach will also monitor the fitness of Alessandro Nesta, who picked up a strain in Madrid and he cannot call on the injured Rino Gattuso nor the suspended Massimo Ambrosini in midfield.
Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato should expect to keep their positions in a probable front three. The biggest single benefit of the revival over the last week has been the return to goalscoring form of Pato. "He has more freedom up front now and he's enjoying that," said Andrea Pirlo. Pato himself insisted that his goal drought - before his match-winning strikes against Roma and in Madrid he had not scored since the season's opening day - had not eroded his confidence.
"I still felt happy in practice," he said, "and knew that in this Milan team things would come right." Elsewhere, Juventus go to Siena seeking a first win in five Serie A games and hardly buoyed by their narrow victory over Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League. "We are still a work in progress," said their head coach Ciro Ferrara, whose positive start to the season has given way to uncertainties over formation, tactics and the bedding in of some of the new signings.
Ferrara, too, is being reminded he is still a newcomer to club management, and beginning to get a sense of the heat Leonardo has felt for most of the last two months. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Chievo v AC Milan, KO 11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport + 1