Inter in danger of another mid-season collapse
Another mid-season collapse is looming for Inter Milan after they followed up two successive Serie A defeats by losing to neighbours AC Milan in the Coppa Italia on Wednesday.
Top of Serie A and unbeaten until only two weeks ago, Inter have dropped to third place and find themselves five points adrift of leaders Napoli after going down to mid-table sides Udinese and Sassuolo in their past two league games.
Since beating Chievo 5-0 at the start of the month, they have managed only a single goal in their past five games in all competitions.
It has become an all too-familiar story for Inter fans who have been starved of major trophies since the 2011 Coppa Italia and the club's league, cup and Champions League treble under Jose Mourinho in 2010.
There have been numerous false dawns for a club now enduring a sixth straight season without Champions League football.
Two seasons ago Inter won their first five league games of the season and led the table going into the winter break under Roberto Mancini.
But a post-Christmas slump saw them finish fourth, one place below the Champions League places, and Mancini quit during the close season as he become frustrated at a lack of new signings.
Inter made an awful start last season but a run of seven wins in a row lifted them to fourth by the end of January and within touching distance of Champions League qualification.
However, another slump left them seventh in the table, failing even to qualify for the much-maligned Europa League.
Luciano Spalletti, the tenth coach to occupy the hot seat since Mourinho left at the end of his treble-winning season, said his team needed to regain self-belief.
"We lost a bit of confidence," he said after Wednesday's extra-time defeat. "We did things with less courage and we didn't manage to make the most of our qualities.
"We need to shift our perspective from a psychological point of view ... We are not lacking in quality. However, things become difficult if you're just waiting for someone to come in and resolve a situation. We must resolve it for ourselves."
Inter host free-scoring Lazio on Saturday knowing that another slip up would leave them only one point ahead of their fifth-placed opponents.
"This squad has the potential to compete in any match and win against any opponent," Spalletti said. "However, we must be aware of our own ability and use this at all times.
"Sometimes, we are not completely capable of showing what we can do."