Coach Carlo Ancelotti is hoping recent UEFA Champions League glories can inspire AC Milan to victory against FC Schalke 04 on Tuesday.
The Serie A giants go into their final Group E game leading the section but level on points with second-placed Schalke, and only one point clear of PSV Eindhoven, who will steal one of the top two spots if they win at home to Fenerbahçe SK. However, despite the tight qualifying picture, Ancelotti maintains Milan have the right to consider themselves a class apart. "In the past three years in Europe, nobody has played as well as us and we intend to take that experience with us into the game," he said.
Ancelotti has led Milan to two UEFA Champions League finals in three seasons, triumphing in the 2002/03 showpiece against Juventus at Old Trafford before losing to Liverpool FC last May - but reaching the Round of 16 this term will demand much of his team's nerves. Mathematically, Milan will be sure to progress if they win or draw by 2-2 or less.
'We can win'
Their main concern in achieving one of those results may be the fitness of captain Paolo Maldini. The 37-year-old missed the second half of Saturday's 2-1 reverse at AC Chievo Verona after straining his left thigh and must undergo a late fitness test. However, fellow defender Jaap Stam returns from suspension. A veteran of 150 UEFA Champions League matches, Maldini admits the pressure is on. "I preferred it when we used to qualify for the next round after four games," he said. "That said, we will go out and give our all because we can win our group."
Milan and Schalke drew 2-2 on Matchday 2 in Gelsenkirchen. The visitors twice took the lead only to be pegged back by their German hosts, and Ancelotti said that Schalke bore more than a few similarities to his own side. "Their attacking style is similar to ours as they play with two strikers, but they will have the added pressure of having to play away from home," said Ancelotti, whose team have won all seven Serie A home matches this season.
Indeed, PSV remain the only side to have taken a point at the San Siro with their Group E stalemate on 19 October. Ralf Rangnick's Schalke must improve on that result - with either a high-scoring draw or a win - if they are to force their way into the first knockout round. A decent run in the Bundesliga and a 3-0 Matchday 5 success against PSV - with Georgian international Levan Kobiashvili scoring a hat-trick - have given Schalke hope. Rangnick and company now need an even more dramatic result in Milan.
"We are going to play to win because we can't count on the result in Eindhoven," said the coach, who is awaiting news of defender Marcelo Bordon, a casualty of the 1-0 weekend win at DSC Arminia Bielefeld with a thigh complaint. However, Rangnick was not convinced by talk of Milan's supposed defensive frailty. "They are having some difficulties, yes, but when you see names like Alessandro Nesta and Maldini on the team sheet, that still makes a big impression," he said.
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