AC Milan come into the last game of the season with a very real risk of missing out on a top three finish and facing the ignominity of playing UEFA Champions League qualifiers next season. Milan play away to Fiorentina in their final match of the season on Sunday knowing that a defeat could result in them dropping to fourth place in the table and next season's qualifiers.
The rossonero are level on points with second-placed Juventus with fourth-placed Fiorentina three points further back. If Fiorentina beat Milan they will draw level on points with them, but the final league positions are determined by head-to-head records rather than goal difference.
Milan beat Fiorentina 1-0 at the San Siro earlier in the season, so if La Viola win by a bigger margin than that, they will leap-frog Milan. However, if they were to win by a single goal, Milan's better goal difference would count and Fiorentina would finish fourth.
The confusion comes if Juve lose at home to Lazio as then all three teams would finish on 71 points. Then there would be a three-way head-to-head, which would still see Juve finish second, but would then also guarantee that Fiorentina finish above Milan.
It all means that Milan need a result and the current speculation surrounding the futures of Brazilian playmaker Kaka and coach Carlo Ancelotti cannot be helping their focus. Kaka, who has been strongly linked in the Spanish press with a summer move to Real Madrid, says he is desperate to get Milan back into the UEFA Champions League, after their fifth place finish last season saw them miss out. But Milan come into the game off two straight defeats and without a win in their last three matches.
"We want to get back to winning ways and to feel the emotion and pressure of the Champions League again," Kaka said.
"This is a very special week, delicate. We're in a tough spell at the moment, but we have to come through that to qualify for the Champions League," he said. "In the last three matches our level has gone down, but now there's just one left and we can't let slip our objective."
However, it has been suggested that finishing fourth and playing in the qualifying rounds would not be such a bad idea for Milan. In fact their last two UEFA Champions League triumphs in 2003 and 2007 came after they had to battle through qualifying. However vice-president Adriano Galliani doesn't want to take that risk.
"It's essential, we absolutely have to get into the Champions League without walking into the Caudine Fork of the preliminaries," he said, alluding to a famous Roman military humiliation. "Even if the last two times we won the Champions League coming through the preliminaries that doesn't mean we'll do it a third time."
The match against Fiorentina will also mark Paolo Maldini's last as a professional footballer, but his party has already turned sour and risks getting even worse if Milan lose. His last home game a week ago was marred by a small section of fans chanting against him as well as a 3-2 defeat that has put Milan in this precarious position. One which Fiorentina midfielder Marco Donadel believes his team can capitalise on.
"We've already achieved our primary objective in a top four finish, but now we're in the running for third and we have to believe in ourselves," he said.
The only other undecided situation in Serie A is who will join Reggina and Lecce in being relegated. Torino and Bologna are level on points, but the Toro, who play away to Roma, have to better Bologna's result at home to Catania if they are to survive due to their inferior head-to-head record.