Milan v Empoli: Zapata sets sights on 'must-win' fixture

Having lost their Serie A opener, Milan's showdown with Empoli is now a "must-win" game, according to Cristian Zapata.

Cristian Zapata has labelled Milan's Serie A clash with Empoli as a "must-win match", despite it being only the second fixture of their league campaign.

Sinisa Mihajlovic's side – who welcomed Mario Balotelli back on loan from Liverpool this week – were beaten by Fiorentina last time out, losing 2-0 and having Rodrigo Ely sent off at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

And Zapata, who came on as a substitute during the defeat, knows that major improvements are needed if Milan are to prevail over Empoli – beaten 3-1 by Chievo in their opener – at San Siro on Saturday.

"We only have one option in the match against Empoli and that is to win," he said.

"We didn't play well against Fiorentina and after we had a man sent off, things got complicated for us.

"It's going to be a hard match. Empoli also lost their first fixture, and we know it is a must-win match.

"We cannot make any mistakes. We need to play in the right manner and with confidence in every area of the team.

"If we break the deadlock early, then it will be a different match, because Empoli will come to sit back, defend and close themselves up."

Milan will be buoyed by the return of Balotelli, with the enigmatic striker having re-joined the club on a season-long loan.

However, the hosts are still likely to be without influential forward Jeremy Menez – a rare positive from last season – while young centre-back Rodrigo is suspended, but Zapata is hoping for a win that could prove a catalyst for their season.

"This is now my fourth season at Milan. The first one was very good, and we qualified for the Champions League," he added.

"The last two seasons meanwhile haven't been successful. Let's hope things can change this season and Milan can get back to the levels it is used to."

Meanwhile, Empoli midfielder Riccardo Saponara is eyeing for triumphant return to his former club.

The 23-year-old originally joined Milan from Empoli in 2013, but after a disappointing spell at San Siro, returned to the Stadio Carlo Castellani on loan before signing permanently in the close-season.

"I want to do well. Not for a sense of revenge but for the stadium where we will play and the opponents," Saponara said on the club’s official website.

"The experience with Milan gave me a lot on a personal level. I think that when an opportunity comes along, it should be taken and looking back, I would to the same thing."