Inter Milan’s defeat to AS Roma at the weekend has sparked worries that the Serie A leaders are suffering from fatigue ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final, first leg at home to CSKA Moscow.
While the rest of Italy’s teams crashed out of Europe one after another, Inter remain their country’s only flagbearers on the continent and they are also still in the Italian Cup, facing a semi-final, second leg next month.
But while they are still on course for a remarkable treble, their league form has disintegrated over the last month and a half.
Although they beat English Premier League heavyweights Chelsea twice in the last round of the Champions League, at home they have been in crisis.
Two wins in nine matches has seen their once 14-point lead over second-placed AS Roma reduced to a single point.
But top scorer Diego Milito, who netted on Saturday but was denied an injury time equaliser by the post, claims tiredness will not stop his team.
“Are we tired? It’s not easy playing in three competitions, you use up a lot of energy but we’re going to keep going and try to do our best,” he said.
“All these commitments are in themselves a motivation, not a problem. Our desire to win is stronger than our fatigue.”
And that desire to win might just be stronger in Europe than at home as Inter bid to end a dire recent record on the continent and reach their first Champions League semi-final since 2003, when they lost to neighbours AC Milan, who went on to beat another Italian side Juventus in the final.
Coach Jose Mourinho was brought to the club as a replacement for Roberto Mancini, despite the Italian leading the team to three straight Serie A titles, in order to bring European success to the club.
He had an impressive record in the Champions League, winning it with Porto in 2004 and reaching two semi-finals with Chelsea.
He was excused last season’s second round exit at the hands of then reigning champions Manchester United but the feeling is that a last four appearance is the very least expected of Mourinho this term.
But despite a difficult opening to their group stage campaign, they have since gone from strength to strength.
And they have history with their opponents having met them in the group stages two years ago.
Inter came through those games with a pair of victories but they were not without their difficulties.
They trailed 1-0 in Moscow and 2-0 in Milan before hitting back on both occasions.
They’ve also had the advantage of a trip to Russia already this season as they faced Rubin Kazan in their pool, earning a 1-1 draw in the cold.
However, if Inter are feeling jaded, their opponents’ conditioning will be at the opposite end of the spectrum as they are only three games into their new domestic season.
But 2005 UEFA Cup winners CSKA are not the force they once were in Russia, having failed to win the title since 2006 and finishing only fifth last season, missing out on European qualification altogether.
It means their hopes of becomming the first Russian team to reach the last four of Europe’s premier club competition since neighbours Spartak in 1991 are looking thin.
But they have had some encouraging results on their travels this season, drawing 3-3 at Old Trafford against Manchester United and winning at both Besiktas and Sevilla.
Whatever the result on Wednesday the teams will have little time to dwell on it as the second leg takes place just six days later.
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