Preview: AC Milan vs. Hellas Verona

Preview: AC Milan vs. Hellas Verona

Fighting for Serie A survival on the final day of the season, Hellas Verona visit the venue they fear the most, as AC Milan play host at San Siro on Sunday.

After blowing a lead last week, only victory for Verona will ensure at least a relegation playoff with Spezia, whose result they must match. Milan, meanwhile, secured a return to the Champions League by beating Juventus last time out.

Thanks largely to their evergreen centre-forward Olivier Giroud, Milan have bounced back from their painful Champions League exit to arch-rivals Inter Milan by winning successive league games – so they will dine at Europe’s top table again next term.

Following his hat-trick heroics against Serie B-bound Sampdoria, Giroud produced the only goal in Turin last Sunday, as the Rossoneri edged out Juventus to move into an unassailable position inside Serie A’s top four.

With a modest 67 points, Milan have qualified for the Champions League with such a low tally for the first time in 20 years – perhaps demonstrating both Napoli’s strength and their own mediocre attempts at defending the Scudetto they won on the final day last year.

Of that total, Stefano Pioli’s side have taken 40 points at home this season, and victory over Verona would ensure they have the highest difference (16) between points earned at home and away throughout Serie A.

Their strength at San Siro and a 10-point penalty for Juventus has helped Milan over the line, after a string of recruitment errors saw a thin squad exposed on multiple occasions this term.

Ahead of a planned summer rebuild, which Pioli is set to lead despite previous whispers to the contrary, they must first finish the job in front of their own fans at the famed Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

Having won their last four league matches against Verona, including a crucial 3-1 win on the way to last year’s title, the Rossoneri will seek to post five successive wins over the Gialloblu in Serie A for the very first time – an outcome which could consign their visitors to the drop.

Arriving in Italy’s second city on Sunday night, Verona are acutely aware that Milan fans would revel in their relegation, after suffering infamous ‘Fatale Verona’ defeats that scuppered Scudetto bids in both 1973 and 1990.

The Scaligeri are also up against the overwhelming weight of precedent this weekend, as not only are they winless away to Milan in 30 league visits but they have not beaten Inter at San Siro in 32 attempts either.

Depending on events in Rome, where direct rivals Spezia conclude their campaign, that may have to change. However, it could all have been so different if Marco Zaffaroni’s men had held onto a lead against Empoli last time out.

Verona’s final home fixture saw an Adolfo Gaich goal put them in front just after the hour mark, but Giangiacomo Magnani’s last-gasp own goal means they have now dropped a remarkable 27 points from leading positions and are even more vulnerable to demotion.

Following a brief revival which saw them go four games unbeaten in early spring, Hellas have suffered three defeats from their last five to sit 18th in the standings – only ahead of already-relegated Cremonese and Sampdoria.

Now level on points with 17th-placed Spezia, Verona will be doomed if they fail to equal the Ligurians’ result against Roma, and should the pair finish tied on points, a playoff will then decide their fate rather than goal difference or head-to-head record.

Only three times this century have Hellas earned fewer points – on each previous occasion they were relegated – and the last 11 clubs with just one away win during a Serie A season have also dropped down a division. History is not on their side, then, when they march into Milan.

AC Milan Serie A form:
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AC Milan form (all competitions):
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Hellas Verona Serie A form:
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We say: AC Milan 2-1 Hellas Verona
Milan have scored the most goals (21) during the first half-hour of games this season; Verona have conceded more times (10) from the 90th minute onwards than any other side.

Drama is surely in store, then, when the two teams meet at San Siro, where defeat for the visitors could send them down depending on how Spezia fare in the capital.

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