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New look Salernitana face survival test against Serie A leaders AC Milan

Friday, February 18th, 2022 22:35 | By
AC Milan’s French forward Olivier Giroud (right) shoots the ball next to Sampdoria’s Gambian defender Omar Colley during their Italian Serie A match at the Giuseppe-Meazza (San Siro) stadium in Milan on February 13, 2022. AFP

It is a case of top meets bottom in Serie A on Saturday as leaders AC Milan visit tailenders Salernitana who have gambled on retaining their elite status by making wholesale changes since the turn of the year.

Milan may be top but in what promises to be a thrilling run in just two points separates the top three.

Seven-time European champions AC Milan took advantage of Inter Milan drawing at fellow title rivals Napoli to move top for the first time in two months last weekend and have had a full week to prepare for their match.

Inter who are a point off Milan face Sassuolo off the back of Wednesday’s demoralising 2-0 home defeat to Liverpool, while Napoli, a further point adrift, are at Barcelona in the Europa League on Thursday before playing Cagliari on Monday.

Salernitana’s main worry in terms of countering an attacking threat will come in the shape of Rafael Leao, the 22-year-old Portuguese forward is enjoying a breakthrough campaign and will make his 100th Milan appearance.

He is set to be rewarded with a contract extension until 2026 and a salary bumped up to four million euros ($4.5 million) a season.

Goals in each of his last two games, including the only one against Sampdoria which sent Milan top, have taken his Serie A tally to seven, with four assists.

On Tuesday Salernitana brought in new coach Davide Nicola as they try to extricate themselves from the relegation zone.

It was the latest episode of what has been an eventful first Serie A season in over two decades for the southern club, who had already changed hands to ensure they were not kicked out of the league.

Spurred on by new owner Danilo Iervolino Salernitana brought in 11 players in the January transfer window and then got encouraging draws in consecutive matches with Spezia and Genoa.

They were further boosted by the Italian Football Federation overturning Serie A’s decision to dock them a point and hand them a 3-0 defeat for not showing up for December’s match at Udinese following a spike in Covid-19 cases.

That decision means Salernitana have two games in hand over the majority of the teams fighting against the drop -- although they have only one in hand on Venezia who are eight points better off and sit just above the bottom three.

“The only thing I’m focussed on is the next three months,” Nicola told reporters on Wednesday.

“I’m not sure how far we can go this season but we need to believe that we can reach our target (survival).”

Juventus kick off the weekend’s matches with the Turin derby on Friday night as they try to stay in the Champions League spots.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side stayed fourth thanks to Danilo’s last-gasp leveller at Atalanta on Sunday, and sit two points clear of last weekend’s opponents ahead of the visit of Torino.

Atalanta were desperately unlucky not to come away with the win against Juve, as Hans Hateboer hit the bar with the hosts leading from Ruslan Malinovskyi’s rocket of a goal. Gian Piero Gasperini’s team are under pressure to beat Fiorentina to stay in touch with Juve and give themselves the opportunity to get back into the top four by winning their game in hand.

France forward Giroud is yet to score away from the San Siro since signing for Milan but his doubles in the derby with Inter and against Lazio in the cup showed he was more than just Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s understudy.

He was very unlucky not to score at least one more in last weekend’s win over Sampdoria and with Ibrahimovic still out with an Achilles tendon problem Giroud has a great chance to break his duck outside the Lombard capital.

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