MILAN The season cannot end quickly enough for fallen giants AC Milan and Inter Milan, whose unhappy form persisted over the weekend with embarrassing Serie A defeats.
The two sides, European champions 10 times between them, have been reduced to scrapping for the last remaining Italian slot in the Europa League, although it is still possible that both could miss out even on that meagre prize.
Both teams are now in the hands of Chinese owners, although their plans for the future have yet to be outlined in detail and a decision over the much-needed modernisation of municipally owned San Siro stadium, which they share, remains on hold.
Inter say they are committed to re-developing it jointly with AC Milan who in turn say they need their own stadium but have implied they could achieve this by buying into San Siro rather than building a new one.
The uncertainty off the field has continued to be reflected by results on it.
Milan, beaten 2-1 at home by lowly Empoli on Sunday, are sixth, the last of the Europa League slots, while Inter are two points behind them in seventh, which would mean missing out on European football altogether.
Fiorentina, who are a further point behind Inter in eighth, could overhaul both teams in the last five games.
Inter have failed to win any of their last five league games, taking a meagre two points, and slumped to a stunning 5-4 defeat against Fiorentina on Saturday, which Italian media said left coach Stefano Pioli on the point of resigning.
After leading 2-1 at halftime, Inter collapsed spectacularly in the second half as they conceded four goals in 17 calamitous minutes.
"There's no explanation for what happened – we just switched off after a good first half," said Pioli, Inter's ninth coach in the last six years.
"At the first sign of trouble we disappear ... We have a duty to do better and to honour Inter's name."
"We have five matches left to play but we've frittered away everything we built up over the last few months."
Inter were purchased by Chinese retail giant Suning Commerce Group last June, the second time the club has changed hands in three years.
Italian media restarted speculation on Monday that the club were looking to splash out on a big name coach such as Chelsea's Antonio Conte or Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone to replace 51-year-old Pioli, who has spent most of his career at Italy's less glamorous clubs.
Inter were not immediately available to comment.
The club still has to watch its spending, however, as it is being closely monitored by UEFA after falling foul of the European soccer body's break-even rules.
AC Milan's sale to a Chinese-led consortium was finalised earlier this month, ending eight months of uncertainty after the deal was initially announced last August.
In the meantime, Vincenzo Montella, Milan's fifth coach since the start of 2014, has been left to do his best with a mixture of young players raised at the club and some journeyman professionals.
"Milan are having a season that is in line with expectations," said Montella, who, like Pioli, faces an uncertain future.
"The race for Europe will be decided in the final round. We can't get downhearted after this defeat and I don’t think it will ultimately make much difference."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Gareth Jones)