(Reuters) – AC Milan’s final game of the Serie A season against Atalanta on Sunday can mark a turning-point for the club as they look to end a long wait for Champions League qualification, manager Stefano Pioli said on Saturday.
The seven-times European champions have not featured in Europe’s most prestigious club competition since 2013-14, but head into the final weekend with their fate in their own hands.
Milan are third, level on points with fourth-placed Napoli and one point ahead of Juventus in fifth, and a win in Bergamo would guarantee them a top-four finish.
“The final standings will deliver the verdict. We have spoken for the whole year about matches that mark a turning point, and tomorrow will be one. The team is motivated and will be ready to give their all,” Pioli told a news conference.
“Evaluations can be made at the end of the season. Tomorrow is too important, where we are today counts for nothing. Today we would deservedly be in the Champions League, but all that counts is where we are tomorrow night.”
Milan started the season strongly and were top of the table until mid-February, but a dip in form has left them at risk dropping to fifth place.
Napoli and Juventus face mid-table Hellas Verona and Bologna, while the Rossoneri face second-placed Atalanta.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side, guaranteed a top-four finish, are unbeaten in their last three meetings with Milan and thrashed them 5-0 in Bergamo in December, 2019.
“We have shown that we are a strong team. We are facing Atalanta, who have deservedly qualified for the Champions League, but we have the quality to join them there,” Pioli said.
“Atalanta are a strong team, last year we were not yet at their level. Now we have closed the gap a lot and tomorrow we have the chance to show that.”
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie, editing by Ed Osmond)