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Inter in crisis ahead of match against title rival Lazio

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Two weeks ago Inter Milan was on top of Serie A and hadn’t lost a match all season. Now it is seemingly in freefall and has lost three straight matches in all competitions.

Inter’s latest defeat came in the Italian Cup at struggling city rival AC Milan on Wednesday and it will need to swiftly pick itself up if it is to get a result against title rival Lazio on Saturday.

“It is a painful defeat, and also maybe unexpected, because we cared a lot about this Italian Cup,” Inter midfielder Antonio Candreva said after the 1-0 loss. “We were coming from two successive defeats and we must start again with confidence.”

Inter moved top of Serie A with a credible 0-0 draw at Juventus on Dec. 9. However, that was mainly down to the performance of goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, and its struggles in front of goal have continued.

Three days later, Inter needed penalties to get past third-division Pordenone after a goalless draw. That was followed by league losses to Udinese (3-1) and Sassuolo (1-0) before the Cup defeat to Milan, which played with third-choice goalkeeper Antonio Donnarumma.

Inter forward Ivan Perisic has not scored since netting a hat trick in the 5-0 victory over Chievo at the beginning of the month, while captain Mauro Icardi – who remains the league’s leading goal scorer – has only found the back of the net once since that match.

“You have to blame everyone when you don’t win, it’s everyone’s fault even if maybe we need to be more clinical up front,” Candreva said. Inter was outplayed in “a half against Udinese, while against Sassuolo we were punished due to certain episodes. It is a shame for us and the fans also.”

Inter has slipped to third in Serie A, five points behind leader Napoli and four behind Juventus. The two teams immediately below it, Roma and Lazio, have played one less match.

Lazio would move a point behind Inter with victory at San Siro.

“It’s a moment in which we have lost confidence, we have less courage and we are less convinced of our qualities,” Inter coach Luciano Spalletti said. “The players are doing well from a physical point of view and we are not lacking in quality. But we shouldn’t wait for our problems to be resolved by someone else. We have to resolve things by ourselves.”

HOPEFUL MILAN

In contrast to Inter, Milan is hoping the cup victory is a sign its crisis is coming to an end. The win came right after two league defeats and will give the players renewed confidence.

The standout player in the match was surprisingly Antonio Donnarumma, the older brother of first-choice ‘keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who was already sidelined. Antonio Donnarumma only found out he was about to make his debut shortly before kickoff, when second-choice Marco Storari pulled out of the warmup with injury.

Antonio Donnarumma had been harshly labeled a “parasitic brother” by Milan fans, who felt he was only signed by the club so his younger brother would sign a new, long-term contract.

Antonio Donnarumma was a part of Milan’s youth team but has made only one Serie A appearance – for Genoa in 2013 – and spent last season in Greece with Asteras Tripolis.

“I’ve always trained well, in silence, and hard work pays off,” the 27-year-old said. “I couldn’t have had a better debut.

“Parasite? Gigio and I felt hurt, but we kept working in silence. So many stupid things did the rounds, Gigio never said `I’ll only sign if Antonio comes’, on the contrary he told me to go somewhere and play. We have an extraordinary relationship, we’ve also suffered and only we know how much.”

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.