x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Milan's party is on hold

It is a make-or-break game at Fiorentina as Carlo Ancelotti's men risk losing an automatic Champions League spot after their recent slump.

Milan's Paolo Maldini plays his last match for his club against Fiorentina as they aim to secure a Champions League spot.
Milan's Paolo Maldini plays his last match for his club against Fiorentina as they aim to secure a Champions League spot.

MILAN // At least ?20million (Dh104m) could this afternoon rest on a match in Italy that is in danger of being mistaken for a farewell party. AC Milan travel to the Stadio Artemio Franchi to conclude their Serie A season against Fiorentina and by the time they have finished being impressed by the tributes displayed by home fans in recognition of the retiring Paolo Maldini, and prepared the good-byes, perhaps temporary, to be said to David Beckham by his Milan teammates as he readies himself to return to America, Milan must focus on an urgent situation.

If they lose by two goals or more, they will drop out of the top three in the final table of the campaign, and that means Champions League football will not be guaranteed for them next season. The fourth-placed finisher can still enter the lucrative Champions League group phase and collecting the ?12m and more that brings in to a club's treasury - further progress in the competition adds millions more - but will have to do so via a treacherous two-legged play-off in August.

Under the new Uefa seeding systems, that could mean having to overcome opposition as strong as Arsenal for the right to be in the elite 32 who begin the Champions League proper. As it stands this morning, Fiorentina, on 68 points, sit in fourth spot, Milan third, three points ahead of them. To swap positions, Fiorentina must catch Milan on points by winning and reversing the head-to-head advantage Milan hold thanks to their 1-0 win over Fiorentina at San Siro back in January.

Milan have only themselves to blame for leaving the immediate health of the club on such a precipice. Defeated in their last two fixtures, they are slumping to the finishing line. "This is the worst-case scenario," said the Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti, whose own future remains unsettled, with a move to Chelsea now looking more likely. The Stadio Franchi may be the site of his long farewell, too.

It is also a big day for Alberto Gilardino, whose goals have helped Fiorentina to keep pace with the top three and whose relationship with Milan is complex. Once signed by Ancelotti's club for a ?24m, he never quite scored the goals to command a first-team place. Two today would show Milan what they missed. At the bottom of the table, a single remaining relegation spot will be occupied by Bologna or Torino, with the latter under far greater threat. Torino are equal on points but below Bologna on head-to-head results and have seven players suspended for their trip to Roma after the brawl at Genoa a week ago.

Bologna are at home to Catania and need only match the result Torino achieve in the capital. ihawkey@thenational.ae