Milan feels the pressure ahead of Anderlecht match


MILAN (AP) -Financially weakened AC Milan is feeling the pressure ahead of Tuesday's Champions League opener against Belgian side Anderlecht at the San Siro.

Milan slumped to a 1-0 loss to Serie A minnow Atalanta on Saturday - the first time the club has lost its opening two home games in 82 years.

However, despite losing to newly promoted side Sampdoria and a team which usually fights against relegation, club vice president Adriano Galliani says coach Massimiliano Allegri's job is not in danger.

"Allegri is not in discussion, he should stay calm," Galliani said, after spending Sunday at the club's training ground talking to the coach and the players. "We have to think about getting back our injured players and returning to getting good results, starting already in the Champions League.

"Club president Silvio Berlusconi asked me to stay close to the squad and calm them at this time."

Both of Milan's Brazil forwards, Alexandre Pato and Robinho, are working their way back from leg muscle injuries and Allegri will want the duo back as soon as possible as his attack is struggling after the sale of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Milan has scored just three goals so far this season. All three came in the away match at Bologna and were scored by Giampaolo Pazzini.

Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo is also still out injured but defender Philippe Mexes could make his first appearance of the season, and that could serve as a boost to a team sorely lacking in confidence.

"We have to find ourselves again, it seems as if we don't believe in ourselves. And that we're waiting for events to kick-start us," defender Ignazio Abate said. "With all respect for Atalanta and Samp, it seems that anyone can get a result against us at this time.

"You can't talk about desire. The squad has that. We ran from the first minute to the 95th. It's more a mental problem than a technical one. We have to believe in ourselves more. It's not possible that the departure of two champions should send us into a depression."

Anderlecht knows that this is the best possible time to be facing the seven-time European champion.

"Of course we can get to the knockout stages, why not?" Anderlecht midfielder Ronald Vargas said. "Zenit is a very hard opponent, while Milan doesn't seem so difficult. It's not the same as it was five years ago.

Anderlecht is having its own troubles after more poor finishing meant it was held to a 1-1 draw by lowly Lierse at the weekend, failing to close the gap on league leader FC Brugge.

Zenit St. Petersburg has been pinpointed as the main threat in Group C, but the Russian champions are also going through a blip and fell to their second straight loss on Friday, a 2-0 home defeat to title rival Terek Grozny.

Zenit faces Champions League debutant Malaga.

Italian defender Domenico Criscito and Portuguese midfielder Miguel Danny are doubtful for the game after missing Friday's match with injury, while veteran midfielder Sergei Semak is also a doubt.

"I'm confident in my team," Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti said. "Zenit will be completely focused and we will be at the Champions league match at almost full strength.

"Our newcomers Hulk and (Axel) Witsel came in as substitutes on Friday. One should not think that they alone will be able to decide a match but they definitely will help our team."

Despite a tumultuous offseason marked by the sale of key players like Santi Cazorla, Malaga has regrouped and made an excellent start to the Spanish league. The Costa del Sol side beat Levante 3-1 on Saturday to remain undefeated after four rounds with three wins and a draw, leaving it just two points adrift of leader Barcelona.

Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini believes his team can take its good form into its maiden Champions League game.

"We've got to beat Zenit tomorrow, we're capable," he said. "You have to be careful as it's a tough group, I don't think there is one easy matchup. When I coached at Villarreal no one thought we'd make the semifinals.

"The fact we won this weekend shouldn't be transcendental. Every game is distinct. What we will try to do is repeat our win. Euphoria is normal for the public, but the team is conscious that you don't win games with euphoria. We need to work hard if we want to prolong this moment."

Copyright 2015 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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