Inter Milan supporters protest Sassuolo defeat by leaving for lunch
Inter Milan fans walked out of the San Siro in protest at the weekend as the Nerazzurri slipped to defeat against Sassuolo, further reducing their hopes of qualifying for Europe next season, with Roma coach Luciano Spalletti now reported to be the frontrunner for the vacant managerial position.
Most of the stadium was empty by the time the final whistle sounded on yet another defeat for an Inter side who have changed their coach twice already this season, and now look set to miss out on their minimum objective of a place in next season's Europa League.
Half of the San Siro was empty after only 20 minutes with Inter's Ultras deserting the Curva Nord after displaying banners showing their discontent. "Since you do not deserve our support ... today we are just going to go and get something to eat," read one of the banners on view at the lunchtime kick-off.
"We're hanging a pitiful veil over the 2016-17 season," read another banner below a huge white sheet, covering the entire section where Inter's hardcore fans are located.
Following the 2-1 defeat -- Inter's fourth straight reverse in a run which has seen them pick up a club record low of just two points in eight games -- goalkeeper Samir Handanovic said there could be no more excuses.
"We need to try and find a spark during the week," the goalkeeper told Inter's official TV channel. "Perhaps we need to give more in training. It's not about good or bad luck -- we can't think like that. We need to analyse the situation and figure out where to kick on from.
"I've been at Inter for five years and I can understand the fans. Inter should not be where we are in the table. We need to behave like men in these situations."
Eder, who scored Inter's consolation, said he could understand the fans' frustrations, saying that the team feel just as bad about the results as they do.
"It's been a few years now that the objective has been to qualify for the Champions League and we've ended up fighting for the Europa League," he added. "I understand the disappointment because they love the club and had filled the stadium today. When things are going badly, you can accept protests like that.
"[But] I don't like it when people question our desire. I always give my all. This is a tough time and everything seems more difficult. We're here talking about another defeat in what has been a very bad season. If the boat sinks, we all go down -- this isn't tennis. We're a team."
That team is currently being led by Stefano Vecchi, who has stepped in for the second time this season on a caretaker basis following last week's dismissal of Stefano Pioli. He is unlikely to be offered the job on a full-time basis with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte still being linked with a return to Italy and Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone also reportedly under consideration as part of a shake-up being planned by the club's Chinese owners the Suning Group this summer.
Roma coach Spalletti is now reported to be the frontrunner, though, with his friendship with Suning's new technical director Walter Sabatini -- Spalletti's right-hand man at Roma earlier this season -- increasing the likelihood of him being approached.
The 58-year-old is reportedly set to leave Roma in the summer after stating recently that he would move on if he is unable to lead them to some silverware. Speaking after his side's 3-1 win over Juventus which saw them move to within four points of the league leaders with two games of the season remaining, Spalletti distanced himself from the rumours.
"I've not opened up to anything, I've got to be careful what I say," he told RAI Sport after telling a news conference on Saturday that he would consider working with Sabatini again.
"I was just asked whether I would like to work with Walter Sabatini in the future, but I've got to focus on finishing this season and I have not spoken about anything else.
"I've not been in touch with Sabatini. He has sent me messages prior to every Roma game because he's still very attached to the club."
With two games of the season remaining, Inter trail sixth-placed AC Milan by four points, while they are three behind Fiorentina. With Lazio and Juventus meeting in the Coppa Italia final -- and both assured of a top-five finish -- sixth place is worth a berth in the third qualifying round for the Europa League.
Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.