(Reuters) - Inter Milan, beaten and outclassed at home by Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday, will barely have time to lick their wounds before facing another tough test with a visit to second-placed Sassuolo in Serie A on Saturday.
Sassuolo, who have 18 points and are two behind leaders AC Milan, are one of three teams still unbeaten after eight games and are joint top scorers alongside Inter with 20 goals.
In other matches, Milan host struggling Fiorentina on Sunday while titleholders Juventus, fourth with 16 points, are away to Benevento on Saturday
Inter are fifth with 15 points but their erratic form has left coach Antonio Conte exasperated, especially as they are expected to challenge for the title.
Conte was hired at the start of last season to try and restore greatness to Inter, who have won only one major trophy since their historic Serie A, Champions League and Coppa Italia treble in 2010.
But Wednesday's defeat at San Siro showed him how far Inter still have to go.
"This must make us realise that there is a long road to travel and we have to work hard and be willing and humble," he said. "Unfortunately, I think we saw the difference between them and us."
It was a grim night all round for Inter, from Nicolo Barella's naive challenge on Nacho that gifted Real a seventh minute penalty to Arturo Vidal's first-half red card for berating the referee over a penalty that was not given.
Inter repeatedly gave away the ball in dangerous positions and failed to create any openings for Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez.
The only bright spot was that midfielder Stefano Sensi came on as a substitute after recovering from injury.
"The teams are at different levels and we need to grow in every respect," said Conte. "They’ve won the Champions League on several occasions, while we’re trying to get back on this stage again."
Sassuolo have never finished higher than sixth in Serie A and coach Roberto De Zerbi has been quick to dismiss any title talk.
"We have to make sensible and serious evaluations, there are levels which we still cannot aspire reach," he said. "We do not want to stop and we like to win, but there are teams better equipped than us, in every way."
"We just have to try to take away as much satisfaction from every game as possible."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Robert Birsel)