Sinisa Mihajlovic is facing a potentially make-or-break encounter when AC Milan host his former club Fiorentina on Sunday.
Mihajlovic replaced Filippo Inzaghi at San Siro in the close-season, but has failed to oversee a significant upturn in Milan’s fortunes.
The seven-time European champions sit eighth in Serie A at the halfway point of the campaign, 10 points adrift of city rivals Inter in the third and final Champions League qualification spot.
Speculation surrounding Mihajlovic’s future has intensified in recent weeks, with a 1-1 draw at Roma last Saturday and qualification for the Coppa Italia semi-finals not stopping reports that World Cup-winning veteran Marcello Lippi is in line to replace the Serb, who coached Fiorentina between June 2010 and November 2011.
But while there is doubt off the field, Milan centre-back Christian Zapata is adamant Milan can improve their fortunes on it – starting by beating fourth-placed Fiorentina, who are just three points behind leaders Napoli.
“We’ve improved a lot. Against Roma we had chances to win the match but we weren’t able to take them,” Zapata told Milan Channel.
“We need to pick up a positive result against Fiorentina. We must put in a great performance if we want to collect all three points.
“Fiorentina play good football, and they have a strong attack with a lot of players that are always on the move. We will need to stay focused at all times and not give them any space.
“We have the qualities to climb back up the table and we have to start as of this weekend.”
Fiorentina also made a change of head coach in the close-season, but Paulo Sousa has fared better than Mihajlovic since replacing Vincenzo Montella at Stadio Artemio Franchi.
However, the Portuguese was less than impressed with their showing in last Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at home to Lazio.
Fiorentina – who will be without injured midfielder Milan Badelj – have been strong on their travels this season, though, and have only been beaten by Napoli and Juventus in their last eight away games in the league.
Sousa’s men also already have a win to their name over Milan this term having won the reverse fixture 2-0 in August.
Key Opta stats:
– Milan have won only one of their last nine league games against Fiorentina (D4 L5).
– The last time Milan scored more than once in a home game against Fiorentina was back in March 2006.
– Milan won 6-0 against Fiorentina in December 2004: that was the worst defeat for the Viola in the last 20 years in Serie A.
– Fiorentina have scored in 26 consecutive league games: this is a record for the Viola in their Serie A history (55 goals in this run).