Having clung onto second place for several months, a disastrous dip in form sees AC Milan at risk of missing out on a return to Europe, as they prepare to meet relegation battlers Benevento on Saturday.
The fast-fading Rossoneri have now lost back-to-back games, while their visitors have accrued just two wins from 18 outings this calendar year.
After Milan slipped out of the Champions League places for the first time this season, following their disastrous 3-0 reverse at Lazio last time out, they must bounce back immediately if they are to stop a once-stellar campaign going sour as the season reaches its climax.
Their second Serie A defeat in the space of a few days marked a new low in a troubling period for Stefano Pioli's unravelling side, coming after yet another setback at San Siro - versus in-form Sassuolo. That latest failure meant that Milan have picked up only 11 points at home in 2021 - a tally that puts them 15th in Serie A's 'home only' standings for the calendar year.
Though Milan's exceptional away form had previously remained unaffected by their slump in fortunes - the Rossoneri missed the chance to become the first team to win 14 of their first 16 games on the road in a Serie A season - a rare loss outside of Milan has seen them not only lose second place to Atalanta, but also be reeled in by both Napoli and Juventus.
Their ongoing troubles in the final third have seen Milan fade badly since the turn of the year, as an overall tally of 60 goals in the league represents the worst attacking output of the top five teams. With talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic often absent due to injuries - though he remains the club's top scorer, ahead of penalty-taking midfielder Franck Kessie - the elusive talents of their younger forwards have been found lacking when the going has got tough.
A former Milan striker who rarely hid from his responsibilities in the opponents' penalty area, Pippo Inzaghi, will take his place in the opposition dugout this weekend, as he brings Benevento to the scene of his former glories, desperately in need of points for survival.
Last Sunday lunchtime, they had more chances and more of the ball against Udinese, but ultimately fell to a 4-2 defeat - just a week after emerging pointless from a 5-3 goalfest versus Lazio.
Having plummeted into the bottom three - due in part to the remarkable recent revival of fellow strugglers Cagliari and Torino - last year's Serie B champions are now in serious danger of making a direct return to the second tier. Tied on 31 points with those two fast-improving teams, Benevento have scraped just two points from their last five outings and are set to face both Milan and Atalanta during the run-in.
The freak victory over Juventus aside, the Streghe have proved particularly porous in defence during a rotten run which has seen them concede 18 times in their last seven matches, in a campaign of two halves for the modest Campanian outfit.
Benevento's points-per-game ratio has halved from the first part of the season (a healthy 1.2) to the second (currently 0.6), so upcoming fixtures with direct rivals Cagliari (at home) and Torino (away) could prove crucial to their cause.
Inzaghi's men have effectively dropped 16 points from winning positions so far this season and cannot afford to continue that trend in the final five games. While they will be aware of Milan's frailties at San Siro, the Giallorossi must overcome such deficiencies of their own to add another unlikely win to their record this weekend.
After recent false-starts, Milan's 15-goal top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic is expected to return on Saturday evening - though he has found the target just once in his last six matches. The veteran targetman, who recently signed a contract extension that will keep him at the club beyond his 40th birthday, will replace Mario Mandzukic as the Rossoneri's lone frontman.
In fact, only young Daniel Maldini is expected to be missing from Stefano Pioli's squad through injury, so recently returned centre-back Alessio Romagnoli may be set for a start after coming on in the loss to Lazio: on-loan Fikayo Tomori would be the man most likely to miss out.
Though Ismael Bennacer - another recent returnee - came off in that game, he should once more start in the hosts' engine room, with Sandro Tonali and Soualiho Meite awaiting their chance on the bench.
January signing Adolfo Gaich and Gianluca Lapadula - who scored eight times in 27 appearances for Milan - have made an impact on the visitors' attacking output of late, so should start together at the apex of Inzaghi's favoured 3-5-2 setup.
Meanwhile, creative midfielder Nicolas Viola has scored twice in his last two starts, so should keep the claims of the experienced Pasquale Schiattarella at bay once again - with Benevento needing attacking impetus to keep their survival hopes alive.
AC Milan possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Bennacer; Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Rebic; Ibrahimovic
Benevento possible starting lineup:
Montipo; Caldirola, Glik, Barba; Depaoli, Hetemaj, Viola, Ionita, Improta; Lapadula, Gaich
We say: AC Milan 2-1 Benevento
As both sides are approaching desperation in their current plight at either end of the Serie A standings, this may not be a game for the purists, as the home side can overcome their San Siro troubles to pick up maximum points.
The much-anticipated return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic should galvanise a Milan team that looks back to full strength in terms of personnel - if not in confidence and fluidity - and take a step towards salvaging a fine season from the scrapheap.