AC Milan looks to carry improved form into CL


MILAN (AP) -With seven points from its last three matches, AC Milan is showing signs of a turnaround in Serie A. Now the Rossoneri hope to boost their status in Europe, too.

Milan hosts impressive Champions League debutante Malaga at the San Siro on Tuesday aiming to break the Spanish squad's perfect start in the competition.

Having edged out Milan 1-0 at home two weeks ago, Malaga leads Group C with a perfect nine points. Milan is next with four, Zenit St. Petersburg has three and Anderlecht is last with one.

Zenit visits Anderlecht in the other group match Tuesday, having beaten the Belgian side 1-0 in the last round of matches.

Zenit will be without key Brazil forward Hulk, who pulled a muscle in a Russian league match on Friday.

Milan lost five of its opening eight Serie A matches to leave manager Massimiliano Allegri hanging onto his job. But the Rossoneri's recent run - capped by a 5-1 thrashing of Chievo Verona on Saturday - has given him more breathing room.

"We're still many points behind and we have to make our way up through the table," club vice president Adriano Galliani said, referring to Milan's 10th-place spot. "We've got to focus on one thing at a time and right now that's the match against Malaga, which is very important because if we win it we'll take a big step toward advancing."

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

Stephen El Shaarawy, a 20-year-old striker recently called up to Italy's squad, has taken advantage of Ibrahimovic's absence by scoring eight goals in Serie A to top the league scoring chart.

Malaga's goals have been more evenly distributed, with Javier Saviola the only forward to score more than once.

The Costa del Sol club is fourth in the Spanish league and yet to concede a goal in five Champions League matches, including the final round of playoffs against Panathinaikos.

"Nobody thought we would start so well," Saviola said, before looking ahead to the contest in Italy. "Milan needs a win, they need points and they're going to have to risk something. It's going to be a fun, open match with a lot of chances."

Two weeks ago, Joaquin Sanchez made up for a penalty miss by scoring a second-half winner as Malaga beat Milan by a goal at home.

On Saturday, Malaga was beaten 2-1 by Rayo Vallecano for its first home loss since March.

Zenit is also showing strong domestic form, having gone unbeaten in its past six Russian league matches to improve to third place, three points behind leader CSKA Moscow.

While Hulk is out, midfielder Igor Denisov is back in the squad after being sidelined in mid-September by club management due to a salary dispute.

"Zenit has overcome a tough situation in which the team has been in since autumn and is now close to its best form," coach Luciano Spalletti said. "With Denisov back into the team we have plenty of options to choose in our lineups."

Meanwhile, Anderlecht is leading the Belgian league and is hoping that a victory against Zenit will launch a belated drive to finish at least third in the group.

In the past two weeks, Anderlecht has been counting on striker Tom De Sutter, who scored five goals in the last two games, including a hat trick in a 4-1 win over KV Mechelen at the weekend.

Still, De Sutter will be fighting for a place in the starting lineup as the lone striker with Dieumerci Mbokani.

Argentina midfielder Lucas Biglia left Saturday's match against KV Mechelen with a sore ankle but is expected to make the starting lineup.

"We feel that we are ready to hurt Zenit," said coach John van den Brom.

Copyright 2016 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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