Sampdoria pondering drop as Milan loom

MILAN - Relegation-threatened Sampdoria finished fourth last term but a series of calamities have club bosses already talking about the prospect of playing in Serie B with the trip to leaders AC Milan coming at just the wrong time.

The Genoa club wowed Italy by their exploits last season but this campaign has been miserable from the outset and could be about to have a very nasty end with the former European Cup finalists a point above the drop zone with six games remaining.

Almost as soon as they had wrapped up fourth spot last May, coach Luigi Del Neri quit for the bright lights of Juventus and they then lost a Champions League qualifier to Werder Bremen.

Top strike duo Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini left in January for AC and Inter Milan respectively after the former spectacularly fell out with owner Riccardo Garrone and the latter was sacrificed for money.

Replacements such as on-loan Manchester United forward Federico Macheda have flopped and they have slid down the table.

"The Garrone family will move forward with Samp even if we are relegated to Serie B," Edoardo Garrone, Riccardo's son, told reporters after attending a training session to galvanise the team.

"We have no intention of quitting. We've been here in the beautiful moments and we will be here also in the dark ones. We are trying to give our utmost."

A suspension to Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic might have given Samp a chance at the San Siro on Saturday but of late, Massimiliano Allegri's side have played better without the Swede, who made a great start to the season but has tired.

Whether Cassano will play against his former side is unclear with Alexandre Pato and Robinho probably ahead of him in the pecking order as Milan try to maintain or extend their three-point lead over Napoli in their quest for a first scudetto since 2004.

Napoli, last champions with Diego Maradona in the team in 1990, are keeping up the pace against all the odds and predictions and they host Udinese on Sunday at an apparently opportune moment.

Udinese were unbeaten in 2011 before a 2-0 reverse at resurgent Lecce and last Saturday's 2-1 defeat by AS Roma pushed them out of the fourth Champions League qualifying spot now occupied by Lazio, who visit Catania on Sunday.

Champions Inter, five points behind Milan in third, travel to fourth-bottom Parma in need of a lift on Saturday following their Champions League quarter-final elimination by Schalke 04 on Wednesday.