AC Milan boss Vincenzo Montella says his team’s Serie A home clash with Sassuolo is crucial in his bid to lead them back into Europe.
The San Siro side are in their third consecutive campaign without European football, while Sunday’s opponents are playing on the continent for the first time in this season’s Europa League.
Milan have 10 points from their first six league games – with Sassuolo one behind them – and Montella feels the two teams will be direct rivals towards the top of Serie A in 2016-17.
The head coach urged his players to show more hunger to return to Europe and feels this will be a key game in that quest.
“Milan miss Europe and that should make us even more motivated,” Montella said at his pre-match media conference.
“We need more sporting hunger. With hunger and desire we can fight to get back into Europe.
“They are a direct competitor for Europe. At this moment, I certainly say yes [they are]. Points would be worth more against Sassuolo.
“We face a strong team that has continuity. They have very fast players who know each other very well. Everything is natural for them, especially in attack.
“Even if they have seven injured players, we have got four or five. It is true their first Europa League campaign can create fatigue, but it also gives them more experience.”
Montella also discussed facing his former Roma team-mate Eusebio Di Francesco, who manages Sassuolo, and hopes to give president Silvio Berlusconi the ideal present on the week of his 80th birthday.
He added: “How do we compare? I’m more handsome! I am happy for his success and I think we have certain similarities as coaches.
“Winning against Sassuolo would be a great birthday present for our president.
“Am I building the future of Milan? I have a two-year contract and that is enough. I focus on the present because I know how unstable this profession can be. We want to think day-by-day, so this is the most important match.”