ROME, October 15 – Serie A leaders Lazio have been in buoyant mood in the last two weeks after their unexpectedly bright start to the league season.The Rome side are two points clear at the top having won four, drawn one and lost one in their opening six games of the campaign.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for a cash-strapped club forced to sell its best players, with full-back Aleksandar Kolarov joining Manchester City and striker Goran Pandev leaving for Inter Milan earlier this year.
Their flying start has left club president Claudio Lotito extolling the virtures of coach Edy Reja.
"He’s a wonderful person with incredible inner strength, but most of all he’s a great leader in the changing room," he said.
Lotito’s gratitude may be partly explained by the president’s unpopularity among the club’s fans, who regularly protested against him and the team last year, with some even invading the training complex and forcing players to train indoors on one occasion.
There is now new-found optimism within the camp, not least after midfielder Stefano Mauri’s recent Italy recall, and the 30-year-old believes the good times are on their way back.
"We’ve done well in these six matches; even in the defeat in Genoa (a 2-0 loss to Sampdoria on the season’s opening day) we played well," he said.
"But we’ve not done much so far, there’s only been six matches, we’ll see where we are halfway through the season.
"It’s a strange league, which often happens after the World Cup. But soon the big teams will come back to the top.
"I’m saying only that we can go far if we continue to make sacrifices and work hard, as we’ve been doing so far.
"We knew what the problems were and we’ve resolved them."
Lazio travel to mid-table Bari in Sunday’s late game in a match that is anything other than straightforward, given that the southerners are unbeaten at home.
Should the biancocelesti slip up, three teams sit two points behind and ready to take advantage: the Milan neighbours and Napoli.
Champions Inter are in disarray due to an injury crisis that leaves them with only two fit central midfielders in Dejan Stankovic and rebel Sulley Muntari.
Ghanaian Muntari stormed out of the ground two weeks ago when he didn’t even make the bench and he has hardly featured this season, but he is needed now.
Inter are also likely to be boosted by the return from injury of captain Javier Zanetti, who could play in midfield, but there are still doubts over forwards Diego Milito, Pandev and Jonathan Biabiany.
These problems are worrying Zanetti, particularly ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League visit of Tottenham.
"We’ve got many injuries and the important thing is that my team-mates get better quickly," he said.
Inter travel to Cagliari, while AC Milan host fifth-placed Chievo, who mathematically could go top if they won.
Chievo have won both their away games this season, 3-1 against Genoa and Napoli.
Milan, however, are far more likely to mount a sustained assault on the silverware and their Brazilian forward Robinho says he’s been encouraged by the form of their title rivals.
"When I arrived here I spoke of winning the league and Champions League, that’s normal," he said.
"But having seen our rivals live and on television I’m more convinced than ever that we can win the league."
Napoli, the other team in the running to go top, travel to Catania.
AC Milan v Chievo (1600GMT), Roma v Genoa (1845GMT)
Sunday (1300GMT unless otherwise stated):
Cagliari v Inter Milan (1030GMT), Brescia v Udinese, Catania v Napoli, Cesena v Parma, Juventus v Lecce, Palermo v Bologna, Sampdoria v Fiorentina, Bari v Lazio (1845GMT)