Sampdoria on brink of shock relegation

MILAN - Sampdoria's descent from Champions League aspirants to relegation fodder has been a remarkable one and Sunday's meeting against a Palermo side free of any pressure further complicates their horrid season.

Fourth last term, Samp started the campaign in the Champions League qualifiers but lost to Werder Bremen and the season has continued on a downward spiral ever since.

The former European Cup finalists, who once boasted stellar names like Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini among their ranks, lie third from bottom with two games remaining and are two points adrift of safety.

The Genoa side, one of the most recognisable in Italy, were sitting comfortably in mid-table halfway through the season but the decision to sell strikers Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini in January without adequate replacements has cost them dearly.

"We practically reached mid-way though the season with a decent amount of points and no one expected this," defender Stefano Lucchini told reporters.

"We then went through lots of games thinking that we would arrest the slide the next Sunday. By doing this, Sunday after Sunday, we probably didn't understand the mess we were getting into."

On-loan Manchester United forward Federico Macheda is among four players doubtful for the clash.

Failure to beat Palermo at home could signal relegation if fourth-bottom Lecce win at derby rivals and already relegated Bari. Cesena, who could still be caught by Samp, face relegated Brescia.

MILAN PARTY

How Bari, Brescia and Palermo approach the games will be key given all three teams have little to play for, which sometimes sparks a freedom of expression among the players or a resigned indifference to the match.

Palermo no longer need to win the game to boost their hopes of Europa League soccer via their league position because they have already secured their spot in Europe's second tier competition courtesy of reaching the Italian Cup final.

Win or lose in the final, they will enter the Europa League because opponents Inter Milan are destined for the Champions League for finishing second in Serie A.

Inter travel to third-placed Napoli on Sunday with the hosts needing a point to secure the third automatic Champions League place and their first European Cup slot since 1991.

Udinese go to Chievo hoping to consolidate the fourth and final Champions League qualifying spot on Sunday while new champions AC Milan will hold a San Siro party for Saturday's game against coach Massimiliano Allegri's former side Cagliari.