ROME: Knocked out of the Champions League in December, eliminated from the Coppa Italia and without a goal in their last three games, Inter Milan have clearly entered their mid-season slump.
The scenario has become almost routine 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.
After winning nine out of 10 matches in all competitions in September and October, Inter have hit their routine post-Christmas rough patch.
Italian media have suggested that Saturday's match at Parma could be crucial for coach Luciano Spalletti although chief executive Giuseppe Marotta has played down the possibility of a sacking.
Defeat by Tottenham Hotspur and a tame home draw with PSV Eindhoven ended Inter's interest in this season's Champions League while their hopes of winning the Coppa Italia, by far the easiest route to a trophy, ended with penalty shootout defeat at home to Lazio.
Inter are still third in Serie A and remain on course for next season's Champions League, although that is largely thanks to the inconsistency of the teams below them.
They are 11 points behind second-placed Napoli and only four points clear of fourth-placed Milan, in danger of being swallowed up by the chasing pack.
Inter's prize new signing Radja Nainggolan, who has struggled with injury all season, was suspended for indiscipline in December and last week missed the crucial penalty in the shootout against Lazio.
Meanwhile, Italian media reported that relations have become strained between the club and Wanda Nara, the wife and agent of striker Mauro Icardi.
In response, Icardi, Inter's leading league scorer for each of the last four seasons, posted a statement on social media, insisting Nara would be his agent "for the rest of my career".
The club were also ordered to play two home matches behind closed doors after Napoli's Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly suffered racial insults from spectators at the San Siro.
Inter were top of the league and unbeaten in early December last season before embarking in a run of eight Serie A matches without a win, equalling an unwanted club record.
The season before that, a poor run of form which started in January saw them drop from fourth to finish seventh and miss out on Europe.
Three seasons ago, Inter led the table going into the winter break under Roberto Mancini but a post-Christmas slump led to them finishing fourth.
Marotta said the main aim remained qualification for the Champions League and implied that, providing he managed that, Spalletti's job would be safe.
"We can’t talk about his job being at risk," Marotta said. "In my 22 years as a Serie A director at Atalanta, Sampdoria and Juventus, I’ve never sacked a coach."
But, asked about possible failure to reach the Champions League, added: "There are some objectives that must be achieved. After that we’ll make our considerations."
Serie A leaders and champions Juventus, who travel to Sassuolo on Sunday, are nine points clear of Napoli who visit Fiorentina on Saturday.
(Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)