European football: Simoni faces ultimate test

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THE Internazionale coach Gigi Simoni goes into today's Milan derby knowing that defeat could well cost him his job.

After Inter slumped to their third consecutive Serie A defeat last Sunday, the club's owner, Massimo Moratti, told Simoni he had seven days and two matches in which to "prove his worth". Inter performed more than adequately in the first of those two matches, drawing 1-1 away with Spartak Moscow in their Champions' League tie, but come into the derby match in eighth position, three points behind fourth-placed Milan and six adrift of the Italian League leaders Juventus.

To add to the pressure on Simoni, Inter are without Roberto Baggio, Youri Djorkaeff, Alvaro Recoba and Ze Elias, all missing due to injuries, and their Portuguese midfielder Paulo Sousa, who is suspended, while the Milan coach, Alberto Zaccheroni, has a full squad to choose from.

Milan have not won a league derby since a 2-1 victory in March 1994, and the Milan captain Paolo Maldini, who will wear a protective face mask following surgery on a broken nose, is all too aware that recent history is against his side. "Every year we say to ourselves that this time we'll set the balance straight," he said. "But given that we're not involved in European competition, the derby becomes an even more important objective. Our biggest problem so far this season is that we have failed to show our true worth, but then neither have Inter."

Only a win will do for Juventus, who travel to Udinese, with second- placed Fiorentina unlikely to slip up at home to Venezia. Parma, fresh from their 2-0 victory over Giovanni Trapattoni's Fiorentina, make the trip to Bari while Salernitana, who pulled off a superb win over Lazio last weekend, make the trip to a Sampdoria side that has already slipped up to unfashionable sides this term. Meanwhile, the costly under-achievers of Lazio host Empoli and Roma visit Bologna.

Real Madrid, linked with Liverpool's Steve McManaman this week, will look to defend their place at the top of Spain's Primera Liga when they visit Alaves today.

Guus Hiddink's side returned to the summit last week after Mallorca were held by Deportivo La Coruna, but the island club could return to the top if Real slip up and they take full points at home to Villarreal. Barcelona, in third place just a point behind the leaders, travel to Oviedo.