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    AC Milan look strong despite Zlatan absence

    Rome: Two teams heading in opposite directions meet Saturday when Serie A leader AC Milan hosts struggling Sampdoria.While Milan holds a three-point lead over Napoli, Sampdoria is in a relegation battle after having played in the final phase of qualifying for the Champions League at the start of the season.Now only one point clear of the drop zone into Serie B, Sampdoria began the season with a formidable attack featuring Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini, both of whom departed during the January transfer window.Cassano joined Milan after reportedly engaging in a verbal tirade against Sampdoria president Riccardo Garrone, and Pazzini left for Inter Milan. In the ensuing months, Samp has won just one match, and is currently on a seven-match winless streak."We're going through a tough moment but we've got to be as positive as possible; by knocking ourselves down we only risk making the situation worse," said Sampdoria captain Angelo Palombo. "Samp isn't dead and we can still bounce back in a big way."However, Cassano will surely be motivated to face his former club, and will also want to celebrate the birth of his son on Thursday. While Alexandre Pato has been in top form, Cassano could find his way into the lineup since Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended again.Having just returned from a two-game ban, Ibrahimovic will miss three of Milan's remaining six matches for insulting a linesman during last weekend's win over Fiorentina."Ibra is a key player for Milan, but we also played the derby without him and we won," said defender Alessandro Nesta, referring to the impressive 3-0 win over Inter a couple weeks ago.Nesta's contract is up in June and there has been speculation that at age 35 he might retire."I'm near the end but not quite there yet, so I'm hoping to continue playing," he said. "I've read a lot of completely false things lately, but I haven't even discussed it with the club yet. Every once in a while somebody likes to turn the newspapers into the cinema. There's a title chase going on and it seems like my contract renewal is the bigger worry."Napoli welcomes back standout striker Edinson Cavani from suspension when it hosts Udinese, which is chasing fourth place and the final Champions League berth.Having allowed a last-minute goal in a loss to Roma last weekend, Udinese dropped to fifth, one point behind Lazio.Napoli hasn't won Serie A since Diego Maradona led the southern club to the honor in 1987 and 1990 and mentioning the word "scudetto" — the term used for the title — is unofficially banned by the team and the football-crazed city."We haven't said it yet and we're not saying it yet," said Napoli captain Paolo Cannavaro, the younger brother of former Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro.Cavani has scored 25 goals this season, the most in a single season in Napoli history, and has drawn comparisons to Maradona."Maradona went down in history and I hope Cavani becomes part of our history, but replacing Diego isn't easy," said Paolo Cannavaro.Still, Napoli fans are starting to sense something special and 15,000 of them traveled to see the team beat Bologna 2-0 last weekend."The impact when you walk out of the changing room really fills you with adrenalin. Seeing half the stadium in white-blue is indescribable," Paolo Cannavaro added. "Our supporters give us an extra weapon compared to Milan."Five-time defending champion Inter, which is five points back, visits Parma fresh off its elimination by Schalke in the Champions League, having won a treble last season."It's a bitter pill to swallow, especially since this team has won so much over the last few years," said Inter coach Leonardo.Inter striker Diego Milito added: "We've still got two months to go and we owe it to the fans to try and win Serie A and the Italian Cup."Also this weekend, it's: Roma vs. Palermo; Catania vs. Lazio; Cesena vs. Bari; Chievo Verona vs. Bologna; Fiorentina vs. Juventus; Genoa vs. Brescia; and Lecce vs. Cagliari.