ROME (AP) — AC Milan and Inter need to switch their focus to Sunday's Milan derby in a hurry following lengthy midweek trips to eastern Europe.
Milan stifled a Zenit St. Petersburg comeback for a 3-2 win in an action-packed Champions League match in Russia on Wednesday, while Inter beat Neftchi 3-1 in a Europa League game in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Thursday.
After slow starts to the season, both clubs are starting to find their form.
Milan teenager Stephen El Shaarawy has scored five goals in his last four matches, while Diego Milito and Antonio Cassano are forming a potent attack tandem for Inter.
While Inter is tied for third, four points behind co-leaders Juventus and Napoli, budget-thinned Milan is in the bottom half of the standings, nine points behind.
After letting an entire squad's worth of top players leave in the offseason, Milan has won only two of its opening six matches in Serie A, raising questions over coach Massimiliano Allegri's job status. But the performance against Zenit may have marked a turning point.
"Now there won't be any more rumors about the manager's job for a few days," Milan vice president Adriano Galliani said. "This is a victory that counts for a lot. It puts us in a good position in the Champions League and it gives us morale for the derby.
"We're bouncing back and the squad is improving."
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Mark van Bommel, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf all left Milan over the offseason, while Cassano went to Inter in a swap with Giampaolo Pazzini.
With UEFA's financial fair play rules coming into effect, Milan needed to trim its budget.
"We decided to change our approach out of necessity and we've got a lot of young players now," Galliani said. "If we have the courage to wait a bit, Milan will be great again."
While Inter looked shaky in a 3-1 home loss to Roma in the second match of the season, the Nerazzurri were much sharper in a 2-1 win over Fiorentina last weekend, getting goals from Milito and Cassano.
Milito, Cassano and 39-year-old captain Javier Zanetti each did not make the trip to Baku to rest up for the derby. Inter playmaker Wesley Sneijder is working his way back from a thigh injury and is questionable for Sunday.
The biggest injury problem for Milan has been striker Alexandre Pato, who has yet to play this season after injuring his thigh in August. He started training again Thursday.