Inter's patch of frustrating form continued with a difficult draw away to Atalanta.
The Nerazzurri have now won just one of their last five games, despite having started the season well with new manager Walter Mazzarri.
The 1-1 draw is the latest in a series of tough games for Inter in Bergamo, as the Lombardy Derby has become a difficult and often fiery encounter in recent years.
A header from German Denis cancelled out Ricky Alvarez's early strike, leading to a result from which both sides will feel short-changed. So what did we learn?
The pressure of managing a big club is starting to show on Walter Mazzarri. The Tuscan coach has been full of excuses of late, and it was no different after the disappointing draw away to Atalanta.
Speaking to Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia) after the game, the Nerazzurri boss said:
In my view we deserved to win. If you look at the scoring opportunities, then we created more than Atalanta this evening, especially in the second half. We need to be more clinical and sharp in attack.
We also have to improve our attitude and score more goals in this period that we’re missing Diego Milito. We were naive to give away a goal when in front. We have many aspects to improve upon in order to battle for the top spots.
Lamenting the failure to pick up all three points is understandable, but it's disingenuous of the manager to say that his side deserved victory. Stefano Colantuono's Atalanta played well and capitalised on their chance when it presented itself. They were well worth the point they secured.
Mazzarri also went on to blame the pitch, and while he may have a point, the old cliche that it's the same for both sides rings true. He said:
It was absurd in a Serie A game to see everyone slipping over so much. It looked like an amateur League. We were also tired, as we used up so much energy against Verona on Saturday that we couldn’t press the same way as usual. We ran out of steam as time went on.
The last remark is closest to the truth. Inter were just tired and couldn't dominate the game in the way they'd have liked. That's down to a tough schedule, but also to coaching and the player's individual characteristics.
Again, it was the same for Atalanta, so rather than make excuses it might be more productive for Mazzarri to set about working on his side's weaknesses.
Last season, Inter lost this fixture 3-2. It put an end to their longest winning away record of 10 games in Serie A.
In 2011-12, they drew 1-1 in Bergamo. There was no meeting in 2010-11 because Atalanta were in Serie B, but in 2009-10, the year of Jose Mourinho's historic treble, Inter were denied the three points by a late strike from Simone Tiribocchi. And the season before that they slumped to a 3-1 defeat before going on to win the title.
Simply put, a draw in Bergamo isn't a bad result for Inter. It's always a tricky fixture, and they should be happy to come out of it relatively unscathed.
Part of the reason that Walter Mazzarri's claims that Inter deserved the win will grate on neutrals is that Atalanta did extremely well under difficult circumstances.
The home side were without a number of key players, including Constantin Nica, Giacomo Bonaventura, Gianpaolo Bellini, Stefano Lucchini and Franco Brienza.
Stefano Colantuono gambled by switching to a 3-5-2 formation—and it paid off. The Orobici started extremely well and heaped the pressure on Inter before a lapse allowed Alvarez to score the opener.
Even then, Atalanta continued to press and had a number of chances before their pressure and endeavour was finally rewarded by Denis' header.
It was a performance that will grab the attention of those sides around them in the table, because if Atalanta can play this well against Inter when they're missing key personnel, they're going to be very difficult for most Serie A sides to beat.
German Denis never quite made it at Napoli under Mazzarri, but since moving to Atalanta he's found a rich vein of form.
The Argentine isn't a prolific goalscorer, but he does find the back of the net regularly and loves scoring against the Bergamo side's bitter rivals, Inter.
Denis put five past the Nerazzurri last season and was the hero again in this game, beating the veteran Walter Samuel in the air to head home and cancel out Ricky Alvarez's 16th-minute opener.
In the same interview with Sky Sport Italia, Mazzarri was quick to praise his former player:
Atalanta are a strong side and I complimented Stefano Colantuono. Denis is one of the best centre-forwards in Italy. He didn’t play that much for me at Napoli, but when he did he was always ready. Now he has consistency, regular playing time and therefore more goals.
It might seem counter-intuitive to play a Brazilian attacking midfielder deep in your midfield, but against Atalanta Mazzarri experimented, and the early signs were good.
Ricky Alvarez is in sublime form for Inter, and at the moment he could probably put in a good shift anywhere on the pitch. The young Mateo Kovacic, meanwhile, shows promise but is struggling to find his best football.
The Croatian had been playing farther back for Inter, but a move into the hole behind the striker—with Alvarez dropping into the centre—seems to suit the former Dinamo Zagreb player and could help him develop physically and psychologically.
Alvarez is a tireless runner and covers a lot of space for Mazzarri, so the move shouldn't adversely affect his contributions too much. It should help Kovacic, who is still developing as a player and has struggled physically this term.
The Croatian was patchy against Atalanta, but it shouldn't be forgotten that it was his cross that Rodrigo Palacio headed down to Alvarez for Inter's first and only goal. He needs to improve, but a run of games in the same position, with experience behind and in front of him, should do wonders.
Any player who's been out for six months deserves some time to settle back into the squad, but at 35 you wonder just how well Walter Samuel can perform long-term for Inter at the back.
Speaking to the Inter channel after the game (h/t Football Italia), the former Roma star said:
I’m back at last. It was a difficult game, but I felt quite good even though I've been out for nearly six months. I was sorry to miss out before now, but my teammates have been putting in a huge amount of work and effort.
We tried to go for it and win the game. But a draw is perhaps a fair result in an evenly balanced tie. They didn't have a lot of shots, but they caught us out on our first mistake. But there's a long way to go and we can have our say in things until the very end.
Samuel did have good spells in the game, but he was to blame for that "first" mistake and was beaten too easily in the air by his compatriot Denis for the equaliser. Mazzarri will be hoping that better is to come from the defender they used to call "The Wall."