BERLIN, May 23 (Reuters) - Bayer Leverkusen were in contention for the title at this time last season - but now they are fighting against relegation.
'Neverkusen', as their dejected fans called them after they narrowly missed out on three titles last term, now sit fourth from bottom before Saturday's final Bundesliga programme.
Their fate is in their own hands though, with a win at relegated Nuremberg (1330 GMT) enough to keep them up.
The last three in the 18-strong division go down, with Nuremberg and basement club Cottbus already assured of the drop.
If they do not win on Saturday, Leverkusen's future will depend on how 16th-placed Arminia Bielefeld perform at home to Hanover 96.
If Leverkusen draw, they will survive only if Bielfeld do not win. If they lose, they will need Bielefeld to lose as well.
Other matches on Saturday, May 24 (league positions in parentheses, 1330 GMT kickoffs):
BORUSSIA DORTMUND (2) v ENERGIE COTTBUS (18)
Borussia Dortmund, the outgoing champions, are assured of a top-three finish and are fighting to secure second place for direct access to the Champions League. They have several key players injured, notably goalkeeper Jens Lehmann and Germany defender Christoph Metzelder.
Bottom club Energie Cottbus, who have lost all five Bundesliga games they have played against Dortmund in three seasons in the top flight, are already relegated and have plenty of injury worries.
VFB STUTTGART (3) v VFL WOLFSBURG (8)
Stuttgart are certain to finish in the top four for a place in at least the UEFA Cup. Only a win could see them finish second while a draw would leave them in third place. The top two go straight into the Champions League with the third-placed team entering the qualifying round.
There is little at stake for VfL Wolfsburg, who welcome back Germany defender Tobias Rau from injury.
SCHALKE 04 (7) v BAYERN MUNICH (1)
Champions Bayern Munich warm up for their German Cup final against Kaiserslautern next weekend by visiting Schalke 04, who have lost all hope of playing in the UEFA Cup and whose midfielder Andreas Moeller should play the last match of his prolific career.
BORUSSIA MOENCHENGLADBACH (14) v WERDER BREMEN (5)
Moenchengladbach would make sure of escaping relegation with a draw but Werder need victory to be sure of a UEFA Cup place. Werder coach Thomas Schaaf should rely on the same starting line-up as for last weekend's 2-1 win over Schalke 04.
ARMINIA BIELEFELD (16) v HANOVER 96 (13)
Victory might not be enough to save Bielefeld, whose fate depends on others. Hanover are already safe and will play for the last time with Germany striker Fredi Bobic, who is moving on to Hertha Berlin.
HAMBURG SV (4) v HANSA ROSTOCK (11)
Czech defender Tomas Ujfalusi is suspended for Hamburg SV, who can secure a UEFA Cup spot if they win this northern German derby. Rostock, who have survived yet another battle against relegation this season, won 1-0 in Hamburg last term.
TSV 1860 MUNICH (9) v VFL BOCHUM (10)
TSV 1860 Munich playmaker Thomas Haessler will play his final Bundesliga match in a fixture with little at stake apart for Bochum striker Thomas Christiansen, who is still in contention for the top scorer award. He is second -- a goal behind Bayern's Elber.
HERTHA BERLIN (6) v KAISERSLAUTERN (12)
Hertha Berlin need a victory and a bit of help from other teams if they are to play the UEFA Cup. Kaiserslautern are safe and can concentrate on preparing for their German Cup final against Bayern. They will play in the UEFA Cup next season even if they lose, with Bayern going into the Champions League.
PARIS, May 23 (Reuters) - Only an unprecedented avalanche of goals could prevent Olympique Lyon from keeping their crown while their rivals fight for Europe on the last day of Ligue 1 on Saturday.
A 1-1 draw at Montpellier on Tuesday virtually sealed Lyon's second consecutive title. Three points clear of Olympique Marseille, they have a massively superior goal difference of plus 19 to protect them from disappointment.
Fireworks are ready to receive En Avant Guingamp for the new champions' home match at Stade Gerland.
'We would like the stadium to be blue and red and our supporters to greet us with a storm of applause,' said goalkeeper Gregory Coupet.
'We'll do everything to be at our best and to be worthy of their support and of our title.'
Marseille will not have the benefit of playing at home as they travel to Nantes with the aim of converting a Champions League preliminary round berth they secured on Tuesday into direct entry.
'To qualify directly would make a huge difference and to end the championship in second place would be a great morale booster,' said Belgian international defender Daniel Van Buyten.
Nantes, in 11th place, have nothing to win and nothing to lose at the end of a disappointing season.
Third-placed Monaco, however, are only one point behind Mediterranean neighbours Marseille and coach Didier Deschamps has put a lot of pressure on his players since they lost their last title hopes in a 3-1 defeat at Guingamp on Tuesday.
'To ask us to play a decider three days after we won the League Cup was not fair and we want to get our revenge if only to prove that we could have won the title,' France's 1998 World Cup-winning captain said.
Monaco will host bottom club Troyes who have already been relegated and victory, coupled with Marseille dropping points at Nantes, would lift the team from the principality into the second direct place in the Champions League.
Even if Monaco lose they should keep third place and the qualifying berth, freeing the UEFA Cup spot they won through their League Cup victory in Saturday's final against Sochaux.
Monaco, on 64 points, have a three-point cushion and a goal difference of plus eight over their closest rivals.
Girondins Bordeaux, Sochaux and AJ Auxerre who are all equal on 61, and Guingamp, who are trailing them by two points, are in contention for two UEFA Cup places.
Bordeaux, who are fourth on goal difference, will entertain Lille. Sochaux, fifth, will also play at home against Sedan, who are fighting against relegation.
Sixth-placed Auxerre will host Paris St-Germain a week before the two teams meet in the final of the French Cup at the Stade de France.
At the bottom of the table, four teams, Le Havre, who are on 35 points, Sedan on 36, Stade Rennes on 37 and AC Ajaccio on 38 will try not finish up in the two other relegation spots.
Le Havre, Rennes and Ajaccio are at home to Nice, Montpellier and RC Strasbourg respectively.
Celta Vigo v Deportivo La Coruña: Preview
VIGO, May 23 (Primera Liga) - The Galician derby could well be titled the `Desperation Derby' after both sides received hammer blows last week to dent their end of season ambitions.
A pair of defensive errors condemned Deportivo to a 2-1 home defeat to Valencia that brought their one-week tenure at the top of the Primera Liga to a rapid end.
Wins for Championship rivals Real Sociedad and Real Madrid saw Deportivo slip to third, three points behind Real Sociedad and two behind Madrid.
With only four games remaining, Javier Irureta's men cannot afford another slip if they are to keep in with a chance of lifting the trophy at the end of June.
Celta, meanwhile, looking to pip Valencia to fourth place and a spot in next season's Champions League for the first time in club history, also took a step backward after conceding five goals against Villarreal.
Valencia's win over Deportivo took the champions back above Celta in the race for fourth and with games against Madrid and Real Sociedad to follow, Miguel Angel Lotina's men cannot afford any mistakes at home.
The first-half sendings-off of midfielder Peter Luccin and on-loan Egyptian striker Mido left Celta coach Lotina fuming on the sidelines.
Lotina was particularly annoyed to see Celta, who up to last week had the best defensive record in the league, concede five second-half goals against a side struggling in the wrong half of the table.
Celta appear to be feeling the heat, as demonstrated in a training ground bust-up on Tuesday between Peter Luccin and Catanha.
However, defender Eduardo Berizzo played down the incident.
``That's the sort of thing that happens when the competition is full on. You need that sort of tension at this time of the season, and it would be bad if we were relaxed.''
Lotina will be hoping that his side channel their aggression in a more positive way on Saturday as they aim to avenge the 3-0 reversal at the Riazor earlier in the season and keep their Champions League aspirations alive.
Depor skipper Fran is in no doubt that Celta will provide a tough test on Saturday.
``It's a crucial game, and it's normal for there to be tension and nerves,'' he said.
``There are no favourites in these games. There will be few goalscoring opportunities and whoever take their chances will win the game.
``I think it will be just as difficult even though Celta have players missing.''
Lotina will have to do without the suspended Mido and Luccin, which could open the door for Catanha and Giovanella to return to the first XI.
Striker Diego Tristan misses the clash through injury, but Irureta will be able to call on Mauro Silva again after a one-match suspension forced him out of the defeat last week.
Atletico Madrid v Villarreal: Preview
MADRID, May 23 (Primera Liga) - As if winning the game was not enough of a challenge, Atletico Madrid stalwart Santi Denia is also urging his colleagues to fight for the financial security of the club as well.
At the end of yet another turbulent week at the Vicente Calderon, controversial club president Jesus Gil has announced that he is going to step down, prompting rumours that coach Luis Aragones is reconsidering his decision to quit at the end of the season, while Villarreal arrive for the minor matter of a football match.
How Atletico's players are supposed to concentrate on the game in hand is anyone's guess, but Santi is well aware that their recent poor run of form has seriously damaged their chances of a lucrative place in the UEFA cup next year.
For a player who bore the brunt of one of Gil's infamous tirades just three months ago, the day after Atletico's 4-3 reverse in the corresponding fixture, Santi remains steadfastly loyal to the cause of a club in serious financial trouble.
The defender recognises Gil is stepping down to avoid being a deterrent to potential investors in the latest bid to secure a 36million euro (#25.9million) share issue, and he believes the players should do their bit by winning their final four games.
``We were not expecting the president's decision, like 90% of Atletico's supporters, but he must have thought about it very hard,'' said Santi.
``Miguel Angel (Gil's son and Managing Director) has explained the situation to us and assured us that everything continues as before. The club will continue to look for a significant injection of capital to secure the club's finances.
``Now we have to do our bit by making a extra effort to get into Europe, because if we can do that the club will earn more money, and will be more attractive to investors.
``I don't believe that the pressure has got to the players, but it is true that we have failed in some key games this season. Maybe we have been a little distracted by external matters.
Atletico are eighth in the Primera Liga, four points away from sixth-placed Athletic Bilbao in the final UEFA Cup spot.
``We are still very close to the UEFA cup places and if you also consider that Real Mallorca could finish fifth or sixth, and win the Copa Del Rey, seventh would be good enough for a place in Europe.'' said Santi.
``We have gone over two months without winning at home, so now would be a good time to collect three points and push our way up the table.''
Leading scorer Fernando Torres could make a return from injury on Saturday to partner Javi Moreno up front. The former Alaves striker broke his goal drought with two against Racing Santander last weekend.
Demetrio Albertini resumed training this week, and could return to partner Emerson in central midfield.
Atletico's opponents, 13th-placed Villarreal, arrive in high spirits after two consecutive wins against sides in the top five.
Their 2-1 derby victory over Valencia, their first ever win in the Mestalla, was followed by the 5-0 trouncing of Celta Vigo last weekend.
On top of that, coach Benito Flores has signed a contract extension to keep him at the club for next season as a reward for securing their top-flight status.
After their starring roles in the defeat of Celta, Antonio Guayre and Victor Fernandez could make the starting line-up for the trip to the Calderon.
Rayo Vallecano v Osasuna: Preview
MADRID, May 23 (Primera Liga) - Rayo Vallecano go into their home game against fellow strugglers Osasuna on Saturday night knowing defeat will guarantee relegation from the Primera Liga.
Last week's 3-3 draw in Sevilla may have been good for morale, as late goals from Michel Hernandez and Roberto Peragon scraped a point when all appeared lost against one of the tightest defensive sides in the league, but failure to win hardly helped Rayo.
The draw left them eight points behind fourth-from-bottom Osasuna with only four games remaining.
If they lose against the side from Pamplona, they will find themselves 11 points behind with only three games left and doomed to the second division after four years in the top flight.
A win would still leave Rayo with the unenviable task of clawing back a five-point gap in three weeks.
Rayo midfielder Pablo Sanz refuses to throw in the towel on what has been a disastrous season for the side from Vallecas.
``We can still see a light at the end of the tunnel and we are going to fight to the end,'' insisted the combative midfielder.
``The team has been playing with fire up to now and we are a situation where we can't make another mistake. However, I don't think we need a miracle to be saved because the mathematics give us hope.''
``The thought of relegation has not even entered our heads yet, all we are thinking about is using up all of our options and to do that we have to win our remaining four games,'' he said, appealing for a repeat of the performance which earned them a point last Sunday.
``Against Osasuna we have to find the spirit and the courage we showed against Sevilla,'' he added.
Meanwhile, Osasuna gave themselves a major lift with a 2-1 home win over Betis last weekend.
That win, added to defeats for Alaves and Recreativo Huelva gave Javier Aguirre's men a three point cushion over the relegation zone and confirmed the positive reaction to the club's 5-1 home defeat to Athletic Bilbao three weeks ago.
Osasuna followed that result with a hard-fought but dour 0-0 draw against Espanyol and the win over Betis seems to have set them on the road to survival that could be almost confirmed if they win in Vallecas.
However, Aguirre insists that they have a job to do in Madrid before anyone can even think about celebrating.
``There is no permission for euphoria, I don't want to hear any laughter because we haven't done anything yet,'' insisted the Mexican.
``The gap we have is important, but it's vital that it continues on Saturday against Rayo. This game is just as important as the one we had against Betis and the others that remain.''
Aguirre will be without the suspended Patxi Punal, who scored last week's winning goal, but `Pipa' Gancedo and Pablo Garcia return to action after missing out last week.
Athletic Bilbao v Racing Santander: Preview
BILBAO, May 23 (Primera Liga) - Athletic Bilbao's bid for a UEFA Cup place next season received a boost on Friday with the news that midfielder Carlos Gurpegi's two-year suspension for doping has been temporarily lifted by the Spanish FA's Appeals Committee.
Gurpegi was handed his suspension on May 6, nine months after testing positive for 19-Norandrosterone - a substance usually linked to the use of banned anabolic steroid Nandrolone - following Athletic's opening game of the season.
However, the club have long maintained his innocence and produced studies in conjunction with the University of Extremadura which imply Gurpegi's body could have produced the substance naturally.
Now he can play again, while his case is looked at in depth, a process that could take up until the end of the season.
``We are in the middle of a long process and obviously we want to be able to use the player while it is ongoing,'' said Athletic's director of sport Andoni Zubizarreta. ``This temporary suspension is a positive move.''
Gurpegi will almost certainly slot straight back into an Athletic side, whose recent form has seen them charge up the table.
Meanwhile, the indifferent results of many of Athletic's rivals over the past two weeks has seen them slip away, making the Basques one of the favourites to clinch the final UEFA Cup spot for next season.
Jupp Heynckes' men have hit form at just the right time, with strikers Ismael Urzaiz, Joseba Etxeberria and Santi Ezquerro all scoring regularly along with midfielder Fran Yeste, who has been a revelation since moving into the middle of the park.
Athletic's cause has also been helped by goalkeeper Dani Aranzubia, who has recovered from a shaky start after replacing Inaki Lafuente between the posts to become one of the most consistent performers in the side.
However, Lafuente had an operation on his elbow during the week and will be out until the end of the season, while Aranzubia had a high fever on Thursday and is doubtful.
The 19-year-old 'B' team goalkeeper Miguel Escalona is standing by to make his debut.
Racing, meanwhile, saw their outside chances of European football go out of the window with last week's 2-0 home to defeat to Atletico Madrid.
``It was a nice dream while it lasted,'' explained coach Chuchi Cos, who will sit out the second week of a one-year touchline ban for coaching former club Palamos without the paperwork intact, and Racing will now dedicate themselves to getting the remaining two or three points they need to assure their place in the Primera next season.
``We are going to concentrate hard to ensure there are no surprises,'' said Cos
Valencia v Real Madrid: Preview
MADRID May 23 (Primera Liga) - Real Madrid are swamped by rumours about every aspect of life under the Santiago Bernabeu Big Top but they have no intention of letting that derail their title bid.
Not only have the club have been distracted by reports that central defender and captain Fernando Hierro and coach Vicente del Bosque have yet to sign contract extensions.
The Merengues, who take on Valencia at the Mestalla Stadium on Saturday, have also been affected by the ongoing presidential elections at the Nou Camp.
There is speculation in newspaper El Mundo Deportivo that one of the Barcelona candidates, Jaume Llauredo, has agreed terms with a Madrid first team regular in a deal similar to that which saw Luis Figo move the other way three years ago.
``I have absolutely no comment to make about anything like that; I don't care what that paper writes,'' said Figo.
``I am not a candidate and although all of the candidates no doubt have their strategy, I am not getting involved in elections where I shouldn't.''
However, Figo did give his support to Del Bosque, whose future has been clouded with rumours linking Madrid to Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger.
``I don't think it's the moment to talk about this, but these questions will always arise at this time of year. It seems impossible to speak just about football.
``For me, Del Bosque is the best coach in the world; he's my coach and I hope he continues here for a long time,'' he said.
Del Bosque also tried to avoid any issues that could upset the dressing room at a key stage of the season.
``I see the Barcelona story as part of their election campaign and nothing more,'' he said, before turning to questions about his own future.
``Like many things, it's cyclical; I'm finishing my contract and it's logical for there to be both speculation and for me to receive the support of my players.''
``It's best for everyone to let those who direct the club take the decision they consider to be best for the future of the club and for Real Madrid to continue as the best team in the world.''
Without Ronaldo and Claude Makelele, and hot on the heels of their disappointing Champions League exit to Juventus four days previously, many were expecting Real Madrid to make a fatal slip-up against Malaga last Sunday.
However, Del Bosque's side dug deep and found a depth of personality many doubted they had to sweep Malaga aside 5-1 and put their title hopes back on track.
That kept Madrid in the title race, one point behind league leaders Real Sociedad.
Valencia are trying to hold on to the fourth and final Champions League qualifying place.
Santiago Canizares and Roberto Ayala, according to Valencia's website, are very doubtful because of gastroentiritis.
No matter for Del Bosque, who expects a difficult night.
``Valencia are playing for a place in Europe next season, they played very well in La Coruna last week, but were weak a fortnight before when they lost to Villarreal.
``That sums up their form in the last part of the season, but their game is based on aggression, order and their ability to win the ball. However, we must also remember they have some quality players such as (Ruben) Baraja, Kily Gonzalez and Fabio Aurelio.''
Del Bosque will bring a fit-again Ronaldo back into the side for Fernando Morientes, but will still be without Makelele, who has a calf strain.
Valencia redeemed themselves with their 2-1 win over then leaders Deportivo La Coruna.
Rafael Benitez's side were expected to be cannon fodder following a poor run of four straight away defeats, only for Aurelio's double strike to take them home.
That result moved them back into fourth place, leapfrogging Celta in the race to book the final ticket for next season's Champions League.
It was not pretty to watch, but Benitez's men recaptured the battling qualities and defensive stability which had deserted them in recent weeks and although they have lost midfielder David Albelda to suspension, Carlos Marchena and Ruben Baraja will form a formidable midfield pairing
Juventus v Chievo Verona: Preview
TURIN, May 23 (Serie A)- Champions Juventus hope to celebrate their Scudetto triumph in front of their home fans on Sunday when they take on Chievo four days before the Champions League final against AC Milan.
The Delle Alpi stadium will be in a festive mood for the last match as the Bianconeri wind down from a superb season in which they retained the Scudetto with two matches to spare.
But the players won't have time to relax just yet only four days before the momentous clash with Carlo Ancelotti`s AC at Old Trafford.
``The longest week has begun, we will face this wait in the same way we have done with other matches,'' said Juve striker Marco di Vaio, who is expected to be in the starting line-up.
Juve coach Marcello Lippi is likely to rest a number of his key players before the Champions League final.
Di Vaio will be at the heart of the attack with Marcelo Zalayeta while Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet conserve their energy for Wednesday.
Also, second choice goalkeeper Antonio Chimenti will take over from Gianluigi Buffon.
Chievo lost momentum last weekend with a goalless draw against Roma and only maximum points on Saturday will guarantee them a UEFA Cup place next season.
Sasa Bjelanovic`s one-match ban and the absence of the injured Federico Cossato left coach Luigi Del Neri with a dilemma in attack.
He hopes to solve it by playing Sergio Pellissier alongside German striker Oliver Bierhoff who will be playing his final game in Italy.
The German international joined the Calcio in 1991 and played for AC Milan and Udinese before joining Chievo in August 2002.
``This will be my last match in Italy, but I don`t know if I will continue, it is difficult for a striker,'' said the 35-year-old.
``This has been an exceptional year for the team and I hope I can contribute to giving Chievo qualification to Europe, the players deserve it. ''
Brescia v Modena: Preview
BRESCIA, May 23 (Serie A)- Mathematics overshadow Brescia's end of-season-match on Saturday against Modena, who need one more point to be sure of staying in Serie A.
Gianni De Biasi`s Modena failed to secure the all-important point last weekend against Lazio.
Although a goalless draw would be enough, the odds heavily favour a win for the hosts who have lost only six of their past 36 home games.
``We need to go to Brescia to play a serious match,'' said Modena midfielder Stefano Mauri on Friday.
``The team cannot expect any favours from other teams, we can only think of ourselves and of achieving a result.''
The good news for De Biasi is that he is injury free for the Mario Rigamonti stadium clash.
The Gialloblu will have Giuseppe Colucci and Fabio Bignaroli in attack with De Biasi opting for a risky 3-5-2 formation instead of their usual 4-4-2.
The home team, having avoided the relegation worries of last season, are ninth in Serie A and want veteran coach Mazzone to stay on next season.
``I hope Mazzone remains with us,'' said president Luigi Corioni, but the 66-year-old who has been in charge of Brescia for three seasons, has yet to agree to continue.
``Brescia has been a beautiful experience. My family calls, but I don`t think the time has come to depart,'' said Mazzone.
Brescia forward Luca Toni has been ruled out with a thigh injury and will be replaced by Albania striker Ighli Tare.
Como v Torino: Preview
COMO, May 23 (Serie A) - Torino and Como have nothing but pride to play for at the Guiseppe Sinigaglia stadium on Saturday.
Both teams have already been relegated to Serie B and the only question yet to be resolved is which of them is to finish last in Serie A.
At present they are level in the table on 21 points - Torino have won four of their 33 games and Como just three.
``We hope to win against Como to avoid being last which would be humiliating for a club like Torino,'' said goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino.
The Granata club have won six times at Como and drawn five matches of their 14 previous league encounters, although last year the result here was a goalless draw.
``It has been a negative year for the team, but I hope that the new players who arrive know that this shirt is special,'' added Sorrentino.
Coach Eugenio Fascetti, who is staying on as Como coach next season, intends using his best combination on Saturday with the attacking duo of Nicola Amoruso and Nicola Caccia in the starting line-up.
Only Como's French midfielder Benoit Cauet is unavailable to play against his former team because of a one match ban.
``To see Como and Torino, my current team and my former team face each other with both already relegated, makes me very sad, but this is football,'' said Cauet.
Torino coach Giacomo Ferri has decided to use the opportunity to try out several young players in this match.
Young Nigerian striker Akeem Omolade will line-up alongside the experienced Marco Ferrante while youth team defender Andrea Mantovan and Brazilian midfielder Ronaldo Vanin have also been included in the starting XI.
Udinese v Lazio: Preview
UDINE, May 23 (Serie A)- Udinese have set their hearts and minds on cementing a UEFA Cup spot in the last Serie A match of the season against Roberto Mancini`s high-flying Lazio on Saturday.
``We have no alternative if we wish to have some hope of going to Europe,'' said Udinese coach Luciano Spalletti.
``We need to beat Lazio and I can assure you it will not be easy.''
This is probably one of the understatements of the year, even though Lazio have already wrapped up a Champions League berth for next season.
In fact there is almost an air of serenity at Lazio with Mancini having already agreed to stay on at the Rome club.
``Roberto Mancini will remain at Lazio still for many years,'' said Lazio general director Luca Baraldi.
``We are in agreement with everything with the coach and we are working to have a five-year project.''
Mancini`s men are intent on overtaking AC Milan, who are one point ahead of them in the league table, to claim third spot in Serie A behind champions Juventus and Inter Milan.
``We aim to conclude our great season with a victory at Udine,'' said Baraldi.
Last weekend's 2-0 away win at Perugia revived Udinese`s European dream but they must win on Saturday to secure a place.
The hosts will field a three-man in attack - Martin Jorgensen, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Roberto Muzzi.
The match will be striker Claudio Lopez`s last appearance for the Biancoceleste club - he is returning to Spanish club Valencia in the summer.
Lopez, one of the players who did not accept a salary cut, will play alongside Bernardo Corradi in Lazio`s attacking line.
Midfielder Dejan Stankovic is not available after bursting an ear drum in last weekend`s match and has been replaced by Fabio Liverani.
Also, Lazio defender Massimo Oddo will be absent due to a one-match ban.
Piacenza v AC Milan: Preview
PIACENZA, May 23 (Serie A) - AC Milan are quite happy playing second fiddle to Juventus, but only until next Wednesday's Champions League final.
Juve wrapped up the Serie A championship for the second consecutive year a fortnight ago, but AC are determined to finish the domestic season as runner-up rather than third behind city rivals Inter Milan.
That is why Saturday's last league game of the season against already relegated Piacenza is so important four days before the European showdown with Juventus at Old Trafford.
``We want a win at Piacenza because we still have a chance to take second place in the league,'' Rossonero coach Carlo Ancelotti declared on Friday.
Victory against the Piacenza minnows and defeat for Inter Milan by Perugia on Saturday would secure the Rossoneri second spot in the league.
``The important thing is to finish the championship well, to win on Saturday even if our thoughts are on Wednesday's match against Manchester,'' said Rossonero defender Martin Laursen.
Piacenza have yet to come to terms with last weekend's 3-2 loss to Parma which condemned them to Serie B next season.
Gigi Cagni`s outfit were leading 2-0 at one stage in the first half but then threw it all away in the last five minutes.
Nevertheless, Piacenza will be trying their hardest for a consolation win over Carlo Ancelotti`s Milan at the Leonardo Garilli stadium.
``We must conclude the season well, to try and make our fans forget the harsh defeat against Parma that has cost us salvation,'' said Cagni.
As expected, Ancelotti will rest many of his key players players although Brazilian striker Rivaldo and Filippo Inzaghi have been told they will be called on.
Cagni indicated he will field a three-man attacking line - Dario Hubner, Marco Marchionni and Bogdan Patrascu.
Empoli v Parma: Preview
EMPOLI, May 23 (Serie A)- Parma know their UEFA Cup hopes will die if they fail to win when they travel to Empoli for the last match of the season on Saturday.
Only the top two sides from the Serie A will go into the Champions League, while the teams in third, fourth and fifth will all go into the UEFA Cup.
Parma are sixth, two points adrift of fifth-placed Chievo, so they need to beat Empoli and hope Chievo lose when they play newly-crowned champions Juventus.
``This a very important match for us but it will also be for Empoli as they will play with determination from the start until the end,'' said Parma midfielder Mark Bresciano.
A win will put Parma into Europe for a second successive season, but they face an Empoli side in buoyant mood as they celebrate securing their Serie A future with their draw at Torino last week.
Moreover, in their 14 league encounters at Empoli, Parma have only managed three wins and one draw.
It will be an emotional day for Empoli coach Silvio Baldini, as Saturday will be his last match in charge of the Toscana side after four seasons, much to the disappointment of his present and past players.
``I am very disappointed that the club and the coach have not reached an agreement. The team want to dedicate him the win against Parma,'' said Empoli striker Francesco Tavano.
``With the departure of coach Baldini, Empoli are going to lose a lot because he has been an important man in the team,'' said Bresciano, a former Empoli player.
The 44-year-old announced this week that he will leave the club, and he is set to coach Palermo next season.
His assistant, Daniele Baldini, is expected to take over as coach of Empoli next season.
Tavano is expected to use Antonio Di Natale, Massimiliano Cappellini and Tommaso Rocchi.
Parma coach Cesare Prandelli will go for a risky formation with three players in the attack.
Young striker Alessandro Rosina is set to have a place in the starting line-up at the expense of Hidetoshi Nakata, who is expected to be relegated to the bench.
Rosina will play alongside Adrian Mutu and Adriano in a powerful Parma attack.
Reggina must pick up points at the Stadio Dall’Ara – and hope Atalanta slip up at Roma – to have any hope of avoiding the drop.
The Amaranto have battled hard to scramble out of the relegation zone and are currently level on points with Atalanta. If the two teams cannot be separated by the end of the 90 minutes this Saturday, there will be a two-legged play-off to see who goes into Serie B.
Reggina’s real problem this season has been their away form, picking up just six of their total 35 points on their travels. This trend needs to be turned around in the final day of the campaign. Last week’s 2-1 win over a depleted Juventus will have boosted morale, with David Di Michele and Emiliano Bonazzoli on fine form. Francesco Cozza is battling injury worries to be fit in time for at least an appearance as a substitute.
Bologna have precious little to play for and put in a sluggish performance at the San Siro last Saturday. That 3-1 defeat did highlight that French teenager Mourad Meghni is a talent to watch, but also how much the injured Julio Cruz is missed upfront.
The Rossoblu have a strong home form and could put a spanner in Reggina’s works. Giulio Falcone steps in for the suspended Marcello Castellini, while teenager Luigi Della Rocca takes over from Giacomo Cipriani upfront.
Bologna: (Probable) Pagliuca; Zaccardo, Falcone, Paramatti; Vanoli, Frara, Colucci, Amoroso; Meghni, Signori; Della Rocca
Reggina: (Probable) Belardi; Jiranek, Vargas, Franceschini; Diana, Paredes, Mozart, Leon, Falsini; Di Michele, Bonazzoli
Inter - Perugia
Inter need just one point to be certain of their second automatic Champions’ League qualifying spot, but it could also be Hector Cuper’s last game in charge.
The elimination from Europe, the Coppa Italia and the Scudetto race has prompted many fans and critics to call for Cuper’s sacking, but any final decision will wait until the summer. It does look certain that Alvaro Recoba will be wearing another shirt next season, while several others are said to be transfer listed.
With Christian Vieri still recuperating, Hernan Crespo should partner Mohamed Kallon upfront. It was a partnership that worked well in the 2-0 win at Modena last week. Talented teen Obafemi Martins is still struggling with an injury and may not make it into the team. Gabriel Batistuta has played his last match for Inter, as the sprained ankle keeps him out once more.
Perugia were aiming for Intertoto Cup spots but this week admitted they may not enter the competition after all. Fabrizio Miccoli is one to watch as his runs into the box could terrorise the Inter defence ahead of his certain return to Juventus.
Ze Maria is on fine form and the Brazilian has been linked to a number of Serie A sides, including the Nerazzurri. The pressure will be on these two even more with captain Giovanni Tedesco injured and hitman Zisis Vryzas suspended. Emanuele Berrettoni should take over upfront.
Inter: (Probable) Toldo; Cordoba, Cannavaro, Materazzi; J Zanetti, Di Biagio, Dalmat, Emre, Pasquale; Kallon, Crespo
Perugia: (Probable) Kalac; Sogliano, Di Loreto, Milanese; Ze Maria, Pagliuca, Obodo, Blasi, Grosso; Miccoli, Berrettoni
Roma - Atalanta
Roma can have a crucial say in the relegation dogfight, as Atalanta desperately need points to avoid the drop, or even a play-off with Reggina. The Orobici are currently straddling the drop zone alongside Reggina and if the two sides cannot be separated they will enter a two-legged play-off to decide who goes into Serie B.
Cristiano Doni kept them in it with a decisive brace against Como last week, quite a result considering they were down to ten men for the entire second half and a goal down. There are problems for Coach Giancarlo Finardi, as he is robbed of the suspended Ousmane Dabo, Cesare Natali and Daniele Berretta.
Ex-Roma man Carmine Gautieri, Sebastiano Siviglia and Luciano Zauri are drafted in. Atalanta’s desire to get results cannot be underestimated, especially by a Roma side that has precious little to play for.
The Giallorossi are automatically qualified for the UEFA Cup as finalists of the Coppa Italia. That two-legged encounter with Milan could prove a distraction ahead of this final game of the season.
Francesco Totti and Marcos Cafu returned to action midweek after almost two months on the sidelines with muscular problems, while Marco Delvecchio should also be fit. Vincenzo Montella is unlikely to feature after surgery to correct a fractured nose.
Totti’s return is timely as Antonio Cassano picked up a one-match ban, so Emerson may be pushed into a more advanced position. Talented teenager Daniele De Rossi scored a wonder goal against Torino a fortnight ago and could get another chance in midfield.
Roma: (Probable) Pelizzoli; Panucci, Samuel, Dellas; Sartor, De Rossi, Dacourt, Tommasi, Candela; Emerson; Totti
Atalanta: (Probable) Taibi; Foglio, Siviglia, Sala, Bellini; Gautieri, Zenoni, Zauri, Doni; Rossini, Inacio Pia’
CARDIFF V QPR
Cardiff City manager Lennie Lawrence has reported a clean bill of health for the Division Two play-off final with QPR at the Millennium Stadium.
Rhys Weston has recovered from the calf injury that forced him to leave the field during the semi-final, second-leg clash with Bristol City at Ashton Gate, while the rest of the squad are fully fit.
The Bluebirds will be cheered on in Cardiff by almost 35,000 fans, after the final ticket of the 1,500 additional tickets they received was sold on Thursday.
Rangers, however, go into their biggest game in years without two key players.
Richard Langley is suspended for the trip to south Wales while Matthew Rose misses out with an elbow injury.
But Chris Plummer will be in the squad despite being told his contract at Loftus Road will not be renewed.
SHEFF UTD V WOLVERHAMPTON
Sheffield United midfielder Michael Tonge may still look up to Paul Ince - but he is hoping to be looking down on the Wolves star after the First Division play-off final in Cardiff.
Tonge had only just been taken on by Manchester United when Ince left Old Trafford in 1995 for Inter Milan and now, after eight years, their paths finally cross again.
The two men are key figures in the final, with 35-year-old veteran Ince up against 20-year-old Tonge, who ironically is a Manchester City fan to add to the occasion at the Millennium Stadium.
While the styles of the two players may be different, as Tonge has pace and skill in comparison to Ince's strength and aggression, the Blades ace is full of admiration for a player renowned as the Guv'nor.
"He lives up to that tag and it would be great to play with someone like that," said Tonge, who was eventually released by Manchester United at the age of 15 before moving on to Bramall Lane.
"He has been, and still is, a fantastic player. He's done everything in the game and is definitely someone you can't help but look up to and admire for what he has achieved.
"I didn't come across him too much at Manchester United because he left quite soon after I arrived, but I always watch him on television.
"Not that I model myself on him because he is a different sort of player to myself. He is a lot more aggressive and a very good ball winner.
"But in watching him you take things out of his game and try to put them into yours and hopefully you will then improve as a player.
"Simply going up against him, directly or not, will be brilliant. It will be valuable experience for me.
"He is their captain, their driving force, and one of the main reasons why Wolves have got stronger and stronger as the season has gone on.
"He's done really well for them this season and Dave Jones will be thanking him."
Although United have enjoyed the highs of reaching the semi finals of both the FA and Worthington Cups, as well as finishing third in Division One, there is the feeling it would count for nothing if they failed to reach the top flight.
"I think all the players are thinking our season will have been worthless if we don't get this one final victory in Cardiff," stated Tonge.
"Although we've had a really good run in the cups and it's been brilliant to play in the big games, when we set out at the start of the season, our aim was to get into the play-offs as we've done.
"In reaching the final, and coming so close, if we were to fail now it would be a huge disappointment."
Veteran midfielder Stuart McCall could come into contention for United having shaken off an ankle knock.
Boss Neil Warnock must also decide on his most effective strike pairing, with Carl Asaba, Dean Windass, Steve Kabba, Paul Peschisolido and Wayne Allison to choose from.
Jones is confident striker George Ndah will prove his fitness after a knee injury, although the Wolves chief is expected to partner Nathan Blake with Kenny Miller up front.
BOURNEMOUTH V LINCOLN CITY
Bournemouth defender Jason Tindall is the Cherries' only definite absentee for the play off final with Lincoln after he was told he will require an operation to cure a persistent ankle problem.
The 25-year-old, who missed both games against Bury with the injury, will be out of action for three months, and will be struggling to be fit for the start of next season.
Midfielder Marcus Browning, who was risked in the home tie against the Shakers despite suffering from a minor groin problem, completed 90 minutes and has shown no reaction.
Imps man-of-the-moment Simon Yeo has been declared fit after recovering from a sore knee.
The 29-year-old, who grabbed three of Lincoln's six goals in the semi-final win over Scunthorpe, expects to start the game in his usual position on the bench despite his recent heroics.
Fellow forward Dene Cropper should overcome his dead leg and start as Lincoln go all-out for a place in Division Two.