MILAN (AP) — After a disappointing midweek exit from the Champions League, AC Milan needs to focus on the Serie A match against Palermo on Sunday if it is to be back among Europe's elite next season.
Milan held a 2-0 lead from the first leg, but lost 4-0 at Barcelona on Tuesday to be dumped out of the competition by the Catalan club for the second successive year. Last year, Milan lost to Fiorentina after the Champions League exit, essentially ending its bid to win the Serie A title.
"We have to be absolutely focused," Milan vice president Adriano Galliani said. "We mustn't repeat in any way last year's league game against Fiorentina, which also came after the match in Barcelona."
Thid-place Milan is two points behind Napoli in second spot and the final automatic Champions League berth. Napoli hosts Atalanta, while leader Juventus looks to extend its nine-point advantage at Bologna on Saturday.
Milan is the only team in Serie A yet to lose in 2013. That run of seven wins and three draws has allowed Massimiliano Allegri's side to set higher targets. "Our aim (against Barcelona) was to play well and to score a goal," Milan defender Cristian Zapata said. "Unfortunately we didn't manage that. They were two great games but now we have to look forward.
"Sunday will be a very difficult game against Palermo. We know we have to do well to finish second, which is our goal now. They will try to defend well and hit us on the break." Forward Mario Balotelli, who has scored five goals in five games, returns after being ineligible for the Barcelona trip. Striker Giampaolo Pazzini remains in doubt after injuring his right leg in last week's victory over Genoa. Midfielder Kevin Constant is suspended.
Palermo is enduring a miserable season. Desperate to avoid relegation, the last-place club rehired Giuseppe Sannino on Tuesday to mark its fourth coaching change of the season. The team now has more coaching changes than its three wins this season.
Sannino was in charge for the first three matches of the season but was replaced by Gian Piero Gasperini in September. Alberto Malesani was hired at the beginning of February, then Gasperini came back for two matches.
"I don't want to create high expectations or make promises," Sannino said. "This is not what the people of Palermo need. Our position in the table means we should stay silent. My job is to finish the season with dignity and respect, for the fans and the club.
"On paper there are some games that are impossible but you can lose with dignity, by doing your best. If other teams are better than us then we will congratulate them but I want to see the desire to say. We are playing against a team that played against Barcelona, that were in the Champions League. We are bottom but I want to show that sometimes in life a turtle can run faster than the hare."
Fiorentina will be eager for a slip-up as it sits only three points behind Milan. The team hosts struggling Genoa, which has slipped back to just two points above the relegation zone after two successive defeats.
Inter Milan and Lazio are both a point further back and they travel to Sampdoria and Torino, respectively. Napoli will be hoping to extend its advantage over the chasing pack and end a poor run when it plays Atalanta.
Walter Mazzari's team looked set to be Juve's closest challengers but has drawn four of its past five games, losing the other. Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis made a special trip to the training ground on Wednesday to give a pep talk to the players and staff.
"I wanted to give them a boost for this last stage of the season, which is almost like a separate competition," De Laurentiis said. "I am certain that everyone will give their maximum." Also on Sunday, it's: Siena vs. Cagliari; Pescara vs. Chievo; and Roma vs. Parma.
Saturday's other game sees Catania host Udinese.