Rafael Benitez will be hoping to reinforce his nascent relationship with Inter Milan when the Italian and European champions travel to troubled Roma on Saturday.
The bulk of this weekend’s Serie A programme is taking place on Sunday, when the main highlight of the day is Cagliari’s trip to Turin to face Juventus.
On Saturday, however, Inter have a chance to steal a march on their title rivals in the wake of showing the first real signs of possible domination. For city rivals AC Milan, the need for points is much greater.
Whereas Milan are struggling in 12th place after four matches and only one win, Inter are showing signs that they will be team to beat this season, having won the league title and Champions League crown under Jose Mourinho.
Inter are one of only three teams to have won three of their four matches so far, and former Liverpool boss Benitez leads the ‘Nerrazurri’ to Roma’s Olympic stadium looking to punish a side which is already on the ropes.
Roma coach Claudio Ranieri, like Benitez a former manager in the English Premier League, with Chelsea, spent most of last week blasting journalists after reports of a bust-up with star striker Francesco Totti.
The silver-haired Italian was given more cause for concern when Roma succumbed to a 2-1 defeat away to Brescia Wednesday in a dramatic, and at times controversial, encounter which left them third from bottom of the table.
Adding to their problems, Roma defender Philippe Mexes was sent off and banned for three matches and ‘keeper Sergio picked up an ankle ligament injury which has sidelined him for a month.
Inter’s health, in comparison, could not be ruder.
Benitez said last week he was unconcerned with the goal-shy attitude of forward Diego Milito, and the Argentine repaid that faith by scoring a brace in Inter’s 4-0 home demolition of Bari.
Cameroon star Samuel Eto’o also scored a brace Wednesday, to show that Inter’s attack is steadily coming round to match their astute defending. In four games Inter have scored eight, and conceded only twice.
Asked whether that success is down to a more attacking approach, compared to the side’s tactics under Mourinho, Benitez said: “We played beautiful football because we have quality players – it’s nothing to do with the system we play.”
It all must be pleasing on the eye for Inter president Massimo Moratti, although the Italian hinted in midweek he still hankered for the charismatic Mourinho.
Speaking to Italian television, Moratti compared Mourinho’s departure for Real Madrid to a “husband who had cheated on his wife but still loved her and, instead of owning up to her, sneaked out of the window and left her behind”.
AC Milan meanwhile host a Genoa side knowing they must take full advantage of playing in the San Siro if they are not to drop further off Inter’s pace, following a 1-1 draw away to Lazio on Wednesday.
Having finished third in Serie last season under former coach Leonardo, Massimiliano Allegri must be regretting the continued absence of Brazilian forward Pato and captain Massimo Ambrosini, who both face another week on the sidelines.
Defeat or a draw for Inter meanwhile could see either Brescia or Chievo take the league lead. Both sides are only one point adrift, with Catania, Cesena and Lazio a further two points off the pace.
Brescia, however, face a potential banana skin in Saturday’s early match away to Bari while Chievo host Lazio in Verona.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
AC Milan v Genoa (1800)
Roma v Inter (2045)
Sunday (all times 1500 unless stated)
Bari v Brescia, Catania v Bologna, Cesena v Napoli (1330), Chievo v Lazio, Fiorentina v Parma, Juventus v Cagliari (2045), Palermo v Lecce, Sampdoria v Udinese.
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