Football: Inter face tough Lazio test after Cup flop while victors Milan also have work cut out

Milan's Suso (center) and Inter's Yuto Nagatomo (right) in action during the Italy Cup quarter-final soccer match AC Milan vs Inter FC at Giuseppe Meazza stadium in Milan, Italy, Dec 27, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MILAN (AFP) - Inter Milan turn their focus back to their flagging Serie A campaign after their Italian Cup derby flop on Wednesday (Dec 27), hosting Lazio on Saturday looking to keep pace with leading duo Napoli and Juventus - who are jostling to end 2017 on top.

Luciano Spalletti's side - third in Serie A five points behind leaders Napoli - have now suffered three consecutive losses and face a tough task against fifth-placed Lazio to keep their Scudetto ambitions on track.

A defeat by the Romans would see Inter drop further behind the leaders as Napoli look set to end 2017 top of the Italian football league table for the second time in three years at third-from-bottom Crotone on Friday.

Napoli have 45 points from 18 games ahead of their trip further south to Calabria, just one ahead of Juventus, who saw off title rivals Roma 1-0 last weekend, and travel to second-from-bottom Verona on Saturday.

Inter are two points ahead of Roma, with Lazio a further two points back in fifth - with the two teams from the capital both having a game in hand.

Spalletti was scathing of his players, including leading Serie A scorer Mauro Icardi and winger Ivan Perisic, after a 1-0 extra-time quarter-final defeat by Milan which ended their Italian Cup ambitions.

"It seems as if here they want to convince you that that's how it works, that you can perform below par, that it can happen," said the manager, whose side focus on Serie A with no European football this season.

"Before there was total conviction in our qualities. You can see they can't recapture that. On a psychological level, we must turn a corner, and realise that we should do more."

Milan have to climb mountain

Napoli stayed top for Christmas with captain Marek Hamsik scoring his 116th goal in a come-from-behind win against Sampdoria to overtake Argentinian legend Diego Maradona as the club's all-time record goalscorer.

And the southerners are firmly on track to challenge reigning six-time champions Juventus for their first Serie A title since the days of Maradona in 1987 and 1990.

"So far we have shown that we can achieve great results, but being ahead now counts very little, we have to head up to Crotone and give our best, there are three to four teams fighting for the summit," said Napoli's Brazilian midfielder Allan.

Crotone occupy the first relegation spot after losing 11 of their 18 games so far, including a 4-0 whipping at Lazio last time out.

Milan travel to Fiorentina looking to build on their confidence-boosting derby win over Inter which halted consecutive defeats.

Milan are 11th, a massive 21 points behind Napoli, and will need another battling performance against Fiorentina, two points above them in eighth.

"I see the lads trying to climb a mountain," said coach Gennaro Gattuso.

"This win doesn't change a lot of things, but it's a morale booster. We can now work more serene and let's focus on taking home a win in Florence."

Roma look to bounce back from their defeat by Juventus at home against Sassuolo, with Torino hosting Genoa and Bologna at home against Udinese.

Tailenders Benevento host Chievo in the final match of the year at home looking to add to their single point and turn the page heading into 2018.

  • Catch these matches in Singapore on Singtel TV Ch109 - Crotone v Napoli (Saturday, 3.40am), Fiorentina v Milan (Saturday, 7.25pm), Roma v Sassuolo (Saturday, 9.55pm), Inter v Lazio (Sunday, 12.55am) and Verona v Juventus (Sunday, 3.40am).

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