Gattuso: Battles await AC Milan

AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso believes things are going to start getting tougher for the Serie A leaders as they travel to Sampdoria this weekend.

Milan opened up a three point gap at the top of the table last week with a 1-0 defeat of Fiorentina, coupled with Lazio's 1-1 draw at Parma. Things are going well for Massimiliano Allegri's team as they also qualified for the UEFA Champions League knock-out stages in midweek following a 2-0 win at Auxerre.

However, Sampdoria is a notoriously difficult destination for visiting teams and, what's more, Gattuso suspects there is widespread determination to beat the leaders. "Now things are going to get tough," he warned.

"All the teams we'll play against will have the attitude that they're playing the leaders and they'll give 100 per cent. They also did it before because playing against Milan is always very important but when you're top every match played is one less towards the final objective. With every game the three points become more important."

Gattuso also played tribute to his team's battling spirit given that they have been missing some top players at various stages this season. "Right now we're missing a player who for me defines football: Andrea Pirlo," added Gattuso of his great friend.

"The fact that he's missing and we're still getting results says a lot about what makes this sport special. You also need a lot of luck. For example, against Auxerre we didn't play well but you could see how much we wanted to win. When you have such motivation no-one is indispensible and me even less so."

Sampdoria has always been a difficult place to go to but Domenico Di Carlo's team have been highly inconsistent this season. They have only lost at home once, to Napoli, but have also struggled a lot, being held to scoreless home draws by the likes of Chievo, Catania and Udinese. Overall they have won only four games out of 13 and drawn seven.

Cassano absence
Sampdoria are also still without star forward Antonio Cassano, who remains suspended by his club for having insulted president Riccardo Garrone. The club is trying to terminate the 28-year-old's contract.

Second-placed Lazio host Catania while third-placed Napoli are at Udinese in games that look decidedly winnable on paper. One team that needs a real boost, though, is champions Inter Milan as they have not won in four league matches. That run has seen them drop to sixth and nine points behind Milan.

But playmaker Wesley Sneijder believes Wednesday's 1-0 Champions League success against FC Twente can be a springboard for Rafael Benitez's team. That saw them qualify for the knock-out stages of Europe's premier club competition and now Sneijder insists the club is buoyed.

"We're going through a tough period but we knew before the game that if we won we'd qualify," he said. "That's really important for us, finally we've won and our morale is great, we can't wait to play the next match."

Inter host struggling Parma in Sunday's early match knowing they must win to have any chance of rekindling their title hopes. However they will be without top goalscorer Samuel Eto'o, the scorer of nine of their 14 league goals, as he starts a three-game ban for his headbutt against Chievo last week. That will leave injury-ravaged Inter short up front as Diego Milito and Coutinho are also out.