European football preview : The pressure is on in Milan

Club football is back on the continent but there is no respite for a clutch of Europe's top clubs, writes Andy Brassell.


Pioli and Ancelotti up against it at San Siro

Saturday's teatime meeting between AC Milan and Napoli would usually be a mouthwatering prospect as two of the most famous names in Serie A.
The Rossoneri's fans are restless at present, firmly ensconced in the bottom half and having just one victory in the bag since the arrival of new coach Stefano Pioli, against badly struggling SPAL. Napoli, meanwhile, are down in seventh place, having won just one Serie A match since September.
This should, in theory, be the perfect opportunity for Carlo Ancelotti to get his team back on the straight and narrow as he returns to his former club. Player for player, there's no doubt that he has the superior hand to play, and Milan should have their hands full dealing with Lorenzo Insigne, Arkadiusz Milik, Hirving Lozano and Dries Mertens.
There are few signs yet, though, that Ancelotti has managed to mould the newbies and the existing talent into a functioning collective. What's more is that the atmosphere at the club is still uneasy after the recent dispute between board and players. If you add in the fact that Napoli only have one road win since the opening day, at Lecce, and Milan's excellent performance at Juventus last time out, we could have the ingredients for Pioli to find himself a sliver of light.
Back Milan to beat Napoli at 3.30

Simeone's striker headache


Atlético Madrid president Enrique Cerezo confirmed this week that Diego Costa is set for surgery on a herniated disc, likely ruling him out for three months. The 2018 deal that brought him back to the Rojiblancos is looking worse by the week. The Spain centre-forward's goalscoring had already slowed to a trickle, and now the possibility of reviving a Costa transfer to China is severely compromised.
In the medium-term - and particularly with the winter transfer window in mind - some financial flexibility would have been handy for a club with precious little room for manoeuvre. In the immediate, Costa's injury leaves coach Diego Simeone short-handed. Atleti were already reliant on Álvaro Morata, and the burden on the former Juventus forward is about to become a lot heavier, with Joāo Félix still yet to return from his own injury.
Maybe the absence of Costa could give the young Portuguese forward the chance to carve a defined role in the team, but for now Simeone is stuck. He could do with wrapping Morata in cotton wool - winning at Leverkusen to guarantee Champions League qualification would have helped - but what he needs from his striker means there is precious little chance of that. With a miserable 15 goals scored in 13 La Liga games and six draws out of those matches, Atleti are already struggling to finish opponents off and their season's hopes are beginning to hang by a thread.

Back Granada and Atlético Madrid to draw at 3.15

Are Bayern really fixed?

They were, admittedly, magnificent in Der Klassiker, but the manner of that victory over Borussia Dortmund has led to a few assumptions about Bayern Munich under the guidance of Hansi Flick. As not just Bundesliga aficionados but a wider international audience has seen the story before, many are thinking it's business as usual. Bearing in mind Bayern's struggles with fluency not just under Niko Kovač but dating back to the time of Ancelotti, we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that Kovač's exit has cured all the shortcomings in the champions' squad.
Flick getting the players hyped for a clash with Dortmund is one thing. In the coming weeks, we will find out more about his medium-term prospects as Bayern coach, which must be working towards getting their defence of an open-looking Bundesliga under control.
Bayern go to Fortuna Düsseldorf on Saturday as overwhelming favourites, but Friedhelm Funkl's side are dangerous. They have won their previous three at home in all competitions and have found a goalscoring solution post-Benito Raman and Dodi Lukebakio in the unlikely shape of Rouwen Hennings. Only Timo Werner and the inevitable Robert Lewandowski have scored more Bundesliga goals this season than Hennings, who must be watched closely.
Back Fortuna Düsseldorf and Bayern Munich to draw at 8.20

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