New era of Stephan Pioli at crisis-club AC Milan begins Sunday with a must-win game against lowly Lecce, as Claudio Ranieri starts his reign at basement club Sampdoria at home against former club Roma.

The top four Italian teams — Juventus, Inter Milan, Atalanta and Napoli — are all warming up for Champions League action next week. But the focus in Serie A will be on the two new coaches, who arrived over the international break, and will both be looking to celebrate their birthday, which they share on October 20, with wins.

Pioli, 53, took over when Marco Giampaolo was sacked after just seven games, while Ranieri, 67, replaced Eusebio Di Francesco, who he also succeeded asd Roma boss last March. Former seven-time European champions AC Milan are in trouble on and off the pitch with reportd this week of losses for last season hitting a record 146 million ( 162 million).

It is hoped that Pioli, who has never won a trophy in his 16-year coaching career with clubs including Inter Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Bologna, can bring stability to the club.

“Our ambition is to fight for the Champions League,” insisted Pioli.

Milan are in 13th position after four defeats — ten points behind leaders Juventus — but just four points away from the Champions league places. Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie believes that it is still early days for the 18-time Serie A winners, who have not lifted the Scudetto since 2011.

“Nothing is decided yet, last season the Champions League place was only decided on the last day,” said Kessie, who scored the winner last time against Genoa.

Ranieri takes over at rock-bottom Sampdoria — 16 points behind leaders Juventus — with just one win in seven games.

“We are last, but this is not the real value of this team,” said Ranieri, who guided outsiders Leicester City to the 2016 English Premier League title. Roma captain Alessandro Florenzi expects a difficult match for the fifth-placed capital side.

“It won’t be easy, we know it,” said the defender. “They have changed the coach and this always leads to a reaction from the team.

“And then Ranieri is perfect in these situations, his attitude leads you to give everything on the pitch, playing every time like a final.”

Title-holders Juventus host Bologna before their Champions League home game against Lokomotiv Moscow, as second-placed Inter Milan travel to Sassuolo before they play Borussia Dortmund. Antonio Conte’s side dropped one point behind Juventus after their first Serie A defeat of the season 2-1 to the champions last time out.

Third-placed Atalanta travel to Lazio before meeting Manchester City in Europe, as Napoli, in fourth, host Verona before their trip to Salzburg.

One to watch:

Krzysztof Piatek was the revelation of the 2018-19 season in Italy joining AC Milan for 35 million euros in January after a blistering start for Genoa, who had paid just five million euros for him six months earlier.

The Poland striker was third in Serie A goalscoring charts with 22 goals, but this season the 24-year-old has struggled to reproduce that form with just two goals of AC Milan’s nine this season, having struck eight in the same period for Genoa last season.

Key stats:

114 – Dries Mertens’ goals with Napoli, one fewer than club legend Diego Maradona 11 – Number of days Stefano Pioli has had to work with AC Milan 7 – Lazio’s Ciro Immobile leads the Serie A scoring charts 3 – Months Inter Milan striker Alexis Sanchez will be out injured 3 – Matches Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic has been on the bench as he undergoes chemotherapy.


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Aspiring journalist working for and exploring the juncture of sports, business and technology. Interested in sports economy and logistics of sports policy-making.

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