ROME, March 26 – There may still be eight games left to the end of the season but champions Inter Milan's visit to AS Roma on Saturday could have a crucial bearing in the title race.Inter lead the Serie A table by four points from Roma and AC Milan who are level on points as well as goal difference.
Roma and Milan may be locked together, but many observers believe it is the giallorossi who have the best chance of denying Jose Mourinho’s team a fifth straight league crown.
That is because since a disastrous start to the season, Roma have already clawed back 10 points on Inter.
They lost five and won only three of their opening 10 games and when the sides met back in November, they were separated by 14 points with the capital-based club hovering just above the relegation zone.
But since then they have been the best team in the league and even their usually cautious coach Claudio Ranieri is allowing himself to get excited by this fixture.
"Just being in this situation is the result of the hard work and sacrifice the players have put in," he said.
"We’re on the final straight and now we’re arriving at the match of the year against the superpower that is Inter."
However, Ranieri insisted he will still be keeping something of a lid on his players’ emotions in the run up to the game.
"I have to keep the team away from everything, we need balance. I never get depressed and I never get overjoyed, everyone knows my character."
There is a slight sense of deja vu about this clash as until last season, Roma had been Inter’s closest rivals for three years in a row.
In 2008 they succumbed only on the last day of the season and victory on Saturday would help ensure they keep things just as close this time around.
Despite Inter’s 3-0 home success over rock bottom Livorno on Wednesday, they have not been in good form in the league recently having won only once in seven ahead of that midweek match.
That is another reason why many feel Roma are capable of overhauling the leaders because despite their win over Livorno, it was the visitors to the San Siro who had enjoyed the better chances before Samuel Eto’o opened the scoring.
Eto’o’s goal, the first of two, was crucial for Inter not least because it was his first in the league since December.
His Colombian team-mate Ivan Cordoba knows just how important it is to have the Cameroon striker back on song.
"He went through a tough period but now he is the Eto’o we all know again," he said.
"I think it’s normal that he needed a certain amount of time to adapt (after his summer move from Barcelona)."
Cordoba is also aware of just how important it is to halt Roma’s momentum — they have not lost in 20 league matches.
"What Roma have done is very important, it’s been an impressive comeback. We know exactly what they are capable of but on Saturday we’ll be trying even harder because we don’t want to give them any hope," he said.
The top of the table encounter will not be the only Milan-Rome clash as Milan host Lazio on Sunday, knowing they too could move to within a point of top should they win.
Coach Leonardo insists his team can bounce back once again this season after having picked up just one point from their last two matches — with two wins they would have gone top.
"It’s not been the first difficult period of our season but we’ve always picked ourselves up and we will do so again," he said.
Palermo v Bologna, AS Roma v Inter Milan
AC Milan v Lazio, Chievo v Parma, Fiorentina v Udinese, Juventus v Atalanta, Livorno v Bari, Napoli v Catania, Sampdoria v Cagliari, Siena v Genoa