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AC Milan v Verona: Champions League still within reach, insists Niang

M'Baye Niang is confident the Champions League places remain within AC Milan's grasp as they prepare to host bottom club Verona on Sunday.

A 1-0 loss to champions Juventus is Milan's only Serie A defeat in their last nine matches, but a frustrating 0-0 draw with Carpi last week has left them seven points adrift of the top three after 15 games.

President Silvio Berlusconi has made it clear this week that a return to Europe is a must for Sinisa Mihajlovic's side this season and Niang is confident they remain in the mix to challenge for a return to the continent's top table.

"The way to recover is very simple, we just have to work. None of us should listen to anything that's said outside Milanello," the forward said to Corriere dello Sport.

"It wasn't any easy game to deal with [against Carpi]. We knew they would play with long balls, as usual, but we earned a point and it's important that we didn't lose.

"[Against Verona] we have to aim for the maximum, as always. I think the goal of the Champions League is within our reach."

For Verona and new head coach Luigi Delneri, the need to claw back a nine-point gap to safety as soon as possible is the primary concern, especially following the 1-0 defeat to Empoli last week.

Away supporters have also been issued a ban from San Siro for Sunday's game as a result of unrest during the 3-2 defeat to Frosinone in November, though the club have hit out at Milan for their decision.

Without a league win this season and having failed to emerge victorious in 25 previous away games against the Rossoneri, the omens do not look good for a Verona side who have failed to score in five of their last seven games in all competitions.

Goalkeeper Rafael saw a suspension for elbowing Luca Paganini in that game reduced to two matches this week, but he will still miss Sunday's game, as will defender Michelangelo Albertazzi, who has a calf muscle tear. Emil Hallfredsson is also suspended, with Samuel Souprayen and Francelino Matuzalem (both thigh) out.

Juanito, Giampaolo Pazzini (both thigh), Pawel Wszolek (knee) and Andrea Badan (muscle problem) are doubts for the game.

Milan received better news on the injury front this week as Mario Balotelli and Andrea Bertolacci returned to team training, with both given an outside chance of making the matchday squad. Luca Antonelli (groin) is doubtful, while Mattia de Sciglio is short of match fitness, with Diego Lopez (knee), Jeremy Menez (back) and Nigel de Jong (thigh) still sidelined.

Key Opta Stats:

- Milan have lost only one of the last 10 Serie A matches against Verona (W5, D4).
- Milan have lost only one of the last nine Serie A home games (W7, D1).
- Verona have not yet won: it is the 11th time that a Serie A team have not won after 15 Serie A games, and only one team remained in the top league at the end of the season (Varese 1970/71).
- AC Milan are the only team yet to gain a single point from a losing position in this Serie A campaign, however, only Empoli (12) have lost more points from leading situations than Verona (11) in this league.
- Luca Toni has scored eight goals against Milan in Serie A, three in the last three matches..