ROME, Nov 6 (Reuters) - AC Milan are struggling to make sense of their extended run of poor form in Serie A after losing 2-0 to Atalanta at the weekend.
The result left them 17 points behind joint leaders Inter Milan and Palermo after 10 matches. The Italian giants have won just one of their last seven games and have suffered three defeats in their last four, including a 4-3 derby loss to Inter.
Having eight points deducted for being implicated in a match-fixing scandal hardly gave them a good start.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti says decisions by officials have made matters worse, and he accused referee Tiziano Pieri of failing to spot two penalties for what he said were fouls on Daniele Bonera and Joann Gourcuff at Atalanta.
'Too many decisions have gone against us,' he was quoted as saying in La Gazzetta dello Sport on Monday.
'First the penalty that was not given to us for a foul on (midfielder Massimo) Ambrosini at Livorno. Then the goal that was overruled against Siena at the San Siro. Then the penalty Inzaghi should have got against Sampdoria. And now these mistakes against Atalanta.
'There really are too many incidents in only 10 rounds of the championship.'
Ancelotti's view was shared by the club, which on its website listed eight penalty claims that were turned down this season. Five would have converted draws into wins, if they had gone Milan's way.
Penalty appeals aside, most neutrals in Italy agree there are more basic problems affecting the team.
Midfielder Andrea Pirlo, the player who collects the ball in front of the defence before feeding it forward, has lacked his usual snap and precision since returning from the World Cup.
The departure of striker Andriy Shevchenko to Chelsea has also left a big hole that no-one has been able to fill.
Filippo Inzaghi and Ricardo Oliveira were both on target in a 2-1 win over Lazio on the opening day, but since then Milan's attack, which also includes Italy international Alberto Gilardino, has mustered just one goal in nine Serie A matches.
Sometimes the midfield picks up the pieces -- as they did last Tuesday when playmaker Kaka grabbed a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Champions League rivals Anderlecht.
But the Brazilian had a relatively quiet game against Atalanta, and without his flashes of brilliance the team around him floundered.
Milan's third problem is its ageing defence, which has conceded eight goals in its last four Serie A matches.
Right-back Cafu is not the storming presence on the wing he once was, while in the centre Paolo Maldini, 38, is finally starting to struggle to keep up.
Last week Milan's managing director Adriano Galliani said his side's objective this season was a top four finish and a place in next season's Champions League.
Without a rapid improvement in their results, however, even that relatively modest challenge might assume mammoth proportions.