Clouds gather over Inter's title bid
Inter Milan will look to get their title hopes back on track against Pescara on Saturday, although the Serie A giants approach their first home match of the year facing major problems.
Prior to the winter break Inter's youthful but defiant coach Andrea Stramaccioni, 36, strode the touchline confidently as his South American-flavoured side kept close tabs on champions and leaders Juventus.
Since then, however, they have dropped to fifth place, nine points behind Juventus having taken just a single point from their last three games.
With experienced Argentine Walter Samuel an injury doubt (Achilles tendon) and the Wesley Sneijder transfer saga still unsettled, Inter can ill afford another slip-up like the 3-0 defeat away to Udinese last weekend.
Although Inter beat league new boys Pescara 3-0 in their first game of the campaign last August, recent media reports have speculated that Inter's poor form is down to their treatment of Sneijder.
The Dutchman, one of the club's top performers in recent years, is effectively being squeezed out of the club for refusing to drastically cut his annual salary of six million euros.
Galatasaray on Wednesday stepped in with an offer which Sneijder is reported to be considering.
Inter president Massimo Moratti, meanwhile, says the ball is firmly in the playermaker's court.
"We had a meeting with Galatasaray the other day which went well, now it's up to the player," Moratti told inter.it.
"It simply comes down to whether he wants to stay or not."
The loss of Sneijder would be another setback for a league which once attracted the top names in football, but which is now largely dictated by the financial crisis being felt across many sectors.
Victory at the San Siro would allow Inter to pull three points clear of fourth-placed Fiorentina, whose signing of Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi last week was tempered by a shock 2-1 defeat to Pescara.
Fiorentina beat Udinese 2-1 in their league opener in August with Montenegrin Stevan Jovetic scoring a brace but have more than one reason to be wary on their trip to the Friuli stadium on Sunday.
Reports this week claimed Udinese turned down a 3.5 million euro bid from Fiorentina for the club's talismanic striker Antonio Di Natale, who scored twice in the 3-0 defeat of Inter last week.
Despite the welcome result, Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin has called for composure.
"It was proof that we have been doing things the right way, but we have to continue putting points on the board," said Guidolin.
"The Inter match is done, now we have to focus on Fiorentina."
Lazio and Napoli, meanwhile, will enjoy home advantage as they host Atalanta and Palermo respectively looking to reinforce second and third place.
Only five points off the pace of Juve, Lazio are two ahead of Napoli before they host Atalanta on Sunday with Miroslav Klose, the club's top scorer, looking to add to his tally of 10 league goals.
All bets, meanwhile, will be on Napoli to demolish struggling Palermo especially in the wake of their 4-1 rout of Roma, complete with a hat-trick from Edinson Cavani.
Uruguayan international Cavani now sits top of the Serie A scoring charts on 16 goals, four of which came from the penalty spot, with a two-goal lead on AC Milan marksman Stephan El Shaarawy.
All 14 of El Shaarawy's goals have come from open play and Milan will be hoping that continues in Genoa a few days after their Italian Cup run was ended at the quarterfinal stage by Juventus (2-1).
The Rossoneri have not won away to Sampdoria in Serie A in five years and, sitting seventh only two points behind Roma, are desperate to make up lost ground from earlier in the season.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Bologna v Chievo (1600), Inter v Pescara (1845)
Torino v Siena (1030), Cagliari v Genoa, Catania v Roma, Lazio v Atalanta, Napoli v Palermo, Parma v Juventus, Udinese v Fiorentina (all 1300), Sampdoria v AC Milan (1845)