Struggling AC Milan visits impressive Malaga

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MILAN (AP) -Hovering in the relegation zone in Serie A, AC Milan could desperately use some success in Europe to rescue what otherwise might be a season to forget.

However, the seven-time winners face a tough test Wednesday at Champions League newcomer Malaga, which has yet to concede a goal in four European outings, qualifiers included. The Costa del Sol club is third in the Spanish league and leads Group C with six points, two ahead of Milan.

Anderlecht, which has one point, and Zenit St. Petersburg, which has zero, meet in the other group match in Russia.

After losing five of eight Italian league matches, Milan is off to its worst start in 71 years, leaving coach Massimiliano Allegri's job at risk.

"There's no desire to change the coach," Milan vice president Adriano Galliani said. "(Allegri) is staying in place, he just needs to get the squad to start earning points and to find a solution to get out of this situation."

Allegri ordered his squad into full-time training mode following a 3-2 loss at Lazio on Saturday, in which it trailed 3-0 at one point.

"If the squad is not achieving results it's normal for the coach to be placed in discussion," Allegri said. "We've got to start earning points, we've got to improve and we've got to avoid making certain types of errors."

An entire squad's worth of top players departed Milan during the offseason, highlighted by Zlatan Ibrahimovic's and Thiago Silva's moves to Paris Saint-Germain.

Still facing budget problems, Milan could use the ?15 million ($20 million) it would earn by advancing from the group stage.

The only positives for Milan this season have been the emergence of 19-year-old forward Stephen El Shaarawy, who has six goals in 10 matches in all competitions; and the play of newly signed Italy midfielder Riccardo Montolivo.

Allegri has changed the rest of the squad constantly.

"Right now we're a bit fragile both in terms of the formation and mentally," defender Daniele Bonera said.

Striker Alexandre Pato came on in the second half against Lazio to mark his first action this season after a thigh injury in August.

"Right now I just need to play as much as possible, because I'm lacking match pace," said Pato, who has a history of strong performances in Spain with a combined four goals at Real Madrid and Barcelona.

After sitting out against Lazio, Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati was again left off the squad due to a respiratory problem. Fullback Ignazio Abate and midfielder Nigel de Jong are also out.

Malaga bounced back from its first loss of the season with a 2-1 comeback win over Real Valladolid on Saturday, again showing its combination of youthful talent and veteran skill with goals from 20-year-old Francisco "Isco" Alarcon and 31-year-old Joaquin Sanchez.

"The team returns to the Champions League in good form," Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini said. "Now we have four days to prepare for a home game that can practically wrap up our classification for the next round."

The pitch at La Rosaleda stadium may not be perfect due to a fungus outbreak.

Zenit and Anderlecht also still have chances of advancing.

"I heard Anderlecht's general director saying they wanted four to six points out of their matches with Zenit. Well, we are after the same," Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti said.

Zenit beat Kuban 1-0 in the Russian league Saturday with a controversial penalty kick from Alexander Kerzhakov. However, the Russian champions are still only fourth, five points behind leader Anzhi.

Zenit will be without midfielder Migul Danny due to a left leg muscle injury and defender Igor Denisov, who is still being kept off the squad due to a salary conflict.

Zenit beat Anderlecht both home and away in the Europa League two years ago.

Copyright 2014 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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