Milan (AFP) – Coach Vincenzo Montella wants captain Leonardo Bonucci to improve his leadership skills as AC Milan host Roma in a crucial Serie A clash this weekend.
Montella’s side fell to their second defeat of the Serie A campaign against Sampdoria last weekend with fitness coach Emanuele Mara getting the boot in the fallout.
The northeners then struggled to a last-gasp 3-2 win over Croatian outfit Rijeka in Europa League action at the San Siro on Thursday, after throwing away a two-goal lead.
“I was a little fired up with Leonardo Bonucci, as he is the captain and should set the example on how to control a lead, but it was an affectionate telling off,” said Montella.
“We’ve got to grow in the way we handle games. This was a valuable learning experience — you have to control a match at the 70th minute.
“We must improve our defensive organisation as we have perhaps struggled a little in terms of temperament under the weight of expectation.”
Bonucci arrived at the San Siro during the summer in a shock move worth an estimated 40 million euros ($45.8 million) after helping Juventus win six consecutive titles.
The 30-year-old immediately stepped into the role of captain as the Chinese-owned side push for a return to Champions League football.
But two losses have left Milan trailing in sixth, six points adrift of leaders Napoli and Juventus and four off city rivals Inter Milan.
“I’m not happy with my performances for Milan so far,” conceded Italian international centre-back Bonucci.
“As a leader I have to do more. When I decided to join Milan, I knew there would be ups and downs, but I don’t feel like a scapegoat.
“Being questioned ignites a fire in me to get out of trouble and give 100 percent.”
– ‘Fundamental’ –
Montella himself has been in the firing line and was hauled in for a meeting with club directors Massimiliano Mirabelli and Marco Fassone earlier in the week.
“Mirabelli and Fassone have supported me. They’re helping me,” insisted Montella.
“There’s no time to look back and reflect, we need to lead Milan into the Champions League and fight for the leading positions in Serie A — it’s fundamental.”
Roma — in fifth — are just ahead of Milan but with a game in hand.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s side have lost just once this season and are coming off a midweek Champions League win at Qarabag which put them second in Group D behind Barcelona.
Inter Milan are confident of keeping pace with the leaders at Benevento, but the tailenders will be desperate to earn their first points of the campaign at home.
Luciano Spalletti has problems in defense with Belgian youngster Zinho Vanheusden suffering a cruciate ligament injury requiring surgery in the coming days.
Juventus follow their midweek 3-1 Champions League win over Olympiakos with a trip to Atalanta, who were held 1-1 in their Europa League fixture at Lyon.
Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic is a doubt for the champions after pulling up with a thigh muscle strain before Wednesday’s game in Turin.
Napoli — 3-1 winners over Feyenoord in midweek — host Cagliari, chasing a first win in Naples in a decade.
Lazio — who left it late to win 2-0 over Belgians Zulte Waregem in the Europa League — host Sassuolo.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Udinese v Sampdoria (16:00), Genoa v Bologna (18:45)
Napoli v Cagliari (10:30), Benevento v Inter Milan, Lazio v Sassuolo, Torino v Verona, Chievo v Fiorentina, SPAL v Crotone (13:00), AC Milan v Roma (16:00), Atalanta v Juventus (18:45)
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