AS Roma v Internazionale FC (Serie A)

This result will prove crucial in the Scudetto race, as first welcome second with Milan waiting in the wings.

These two clubs did battle regularly in the wake of the Calciopoli scandal, culminating in a large chunk of the afternoon with Roma as title winners on the final round in 2007-08. Inter ended up on top that day and have won every title since 2006, but this time the gap at the top is very small with a long way to go.

A victory for the Giallorossi will put them just one point behind Inter and potentially allow Milan back into the running following their slip-up at Parma midweek. Many would argue that Roma are now the primary contenders, having more consistency than the Rossoneri and the wind in their sails.

“We are unbeaten in 20 rounds, so whatever happens we can say this has been a positive campaign,” insisted Claudio Ranieri. “We’re ready to throw Inter a party. Before kick-off I will tell the lads to have fun and give it their all, because they have worked hard to earn this opportunity. What do we have to lose? We don’t have the Scudetto shield on our jerseys like Inter’s players. Why should we feel pressure on our shoulders?”

The pressure did seem to be getting to Inter in recent weeks, as Mario Balotelli has been frozen out following an alleged row with the Coach. He is again expected to be left in the stands in favour of Samuel Eto’o, Goran Pandev and the returning Wesley Sneijder. Dejan Stankovic is also available again after his ban for the midfield.

It’s uncertain whether Jose Mourinho will risk Cristian Chivu, who was rushed back from a fractured skull to make his return in the 3-0 win over Livorno on Wednesday. The former Roma defender is playing with the aid of a Petr Cech-style helmet while he continues to recover from that very serious injury.

Inter swept away the critics midweek by hammering Livorno 3-0, but those who saw that game can tell you the visitors went very close to gaining a deserved lead in the first half. It suggests the Nerazzurri’s difficulties stem further than merely breaking through the run of one win from six games, but the statistics show they have gone four points clear at the top of the table. Only a week ago Milan had the opportunity to leapfrog Inter, but here the title holders are right back in a commanding position.

Roma also went through a rough patch in recent weeks, drawing three on the bounce against Napoli, Milan and Livorno. They seem to be on track again with back-to-back victories over Udinese and Bologna allowing them to catch Milan in second place. Francesco Totti has warned he is still not far along in the recovery process, so is unlikely to feature in this match.

Luca Toni has filled in admirably and has support from Mirko Vucinic and a reborn Jeremy Menez. The Frenchman has been a revelation of recent weeks after a dismal career so far at the Olimpico. He finally appears to have settled into Serie A, though he faces competition from old guard Simone Perrotta and Rodrigo Taddei over a starting shirt. Juan returns from suspension to bolster the defence, but it is Philippe Mexes who could be benched in favour of Nicolas Andre Burdisso.

Last season Inter came away with a 4-0 victory from the Olimpico, but spectacular results are de rigeur between these sides. Roma haven’t beaten the Nerazzurri here in Serie A since a 3-2 result on March 4 2001, the year of the Scudetto.

Also expect plenty of incident, as the last four meetings here in all competition ended with a grand total of 20 goals. Last season a 4-0 triumph in Week 7 effectively ruled the Giallorossi out before the Scudetto race got going, but things have most certainly changed.

Keep an eye on: Luca Toni (Roma) – The hitman has proved crucial in Roma’s charge, not just for his goals, but also assists and generally holding up the ball. That can be precious against the rugged Inter defence that neutralised Chelsea.

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