Inter Milan s Italian defender Danilo D Ambrosio (L) shoots the ball next to Sassuolo s Brazilian defender Ruan Tressoldi during the Italian Serie A football match Inter Milan vs Sassuolo at the San Siro stadium in Milan, on February 20, 2022. AFP
The champions were four points clear at the top at the start of February but trail Milan by two, albeit with a game in hand, heading into their trip to the Italian Riviera, after a miserable month which has also seen them effectively knocked out of Europe by Liverpool.
Simone Inzaghi's side let Milan, who could only draw 2-2 at bottom side Salernitana, off the hook on Sunday when they fell 2-0 at the hands of giant killers Sassuolo. The game exposed their problems front of goal.
"A team that wants to win the Scudetto can't approach a game like that," said Inzaghi after his team were blitzed in the first half.
Still Serie A's leading scorers, Inter had enough opportunities to earn themselves at least a point against Sassuolo while the derby defeat to Milan -- which started this current blip -- and the Liverpool loss both came after strong displays which deserved more reward.
Lautaro Martinez was the worst offender against Sassuolo, missing an open goal from centimetres out and showing why he has scored just once in his last 11 appearances in all competitions.
Good news for Inter comes in the form of Marcelo Brozovic, the Croatian's suspension was a large part of why Sassuolo ran riot in the opening period at the San Siro.
Brozovic is a cornerstone of Inter's play and the contrast between their displays against Liverpool with the 29-year-old, and against Sassuolo without him was stark.
Milan will keep their league lead if they beat Udinese before Inter take the field at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
Stefano Pioli's team kick off the weekend's fixtures fortunate to still be top after both Inter and third-placed Napoli missed opportunities to make a move last weekend.
Napoli have a huge 10 days ahead, with Barcelona coming to town on Thursday before they face Champions League-chasing Lazio in Rome on Sunday night and then host Milan, who they currently trail by three points.
Luciano Spalletti said on Wednesday that he has Lorenzo Insigne and Matteo Politano back for Barca. Victor Osimhen in fine fettle and netting crucial goals after his late leveller at Cagliari saved Napoli from a deserved defeat on Monday.
Player to watch: Mattia Zaccagni
Zaccagni took some time to bed in after moving to Lazio from Verona with the season already underway in August but has been hugely impressive in recent weeks, racking up goals and assists for Maurizio Sarri's rapidly improving team.
With the league's leading scorer Ciro Immobile and Pedro likely out of action, Zaccagni and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will be key to how Lazio fare against Napoli, as they try to close the four-point gap between them and fourth-placed Juventus in the Champions League race.
55 - Inter are still Serie A's leading scorers despite recent profligacy.
7 - Napoli are in the best form of the three title challengers, unbeaten in seven since the turn of the year with four wins.
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