Roberto Mancini believes Inter’s hopes of securing a UEFA Europa League spot rely heavily on the next seven days – starting with a trip to Udinese on Tuesday.
Inter defied the odds to clinch a 2-1 triumph over Roma on Saturday, when Mauro Icardi’s 88th-minute winner proved decisive to keep their hopes of a top-six finish alive.
But Mancini’s men come face-to-face on Tuesday with former coach Andrea Stramaccioni, who will no doubt be keen to prove a point, with Udinese coming off the back of a 2-1 win over Milan.
Inter go into the contest four points behind sixth-placed Fiorentina, who currently occupy the final Europa League place presuming Lazio – who are in the Coppa Italia final – finish in the top five.
But Mancini is well aware that his side, who then host Chievo next weekend, have already dropped points to teams they should have beaten, so is not expecting a foregone conclusion at Stadio Friuli.
He told reporters: “I think the four points between us and the European spots are the ones we lost against Parma and Cesena [both recent 1-1 draws].
“But we have three games this week [including Saturday’s defeat of Roma] and I think it could prove crucial.
“We’ll see where we are come Sunday night. Now we must focus on our trip to Udine.”
Saturday’s win over Milan moved Udinese 14 points clear of the bottom three with six games to go, effectively making the threat of relegation a thing of the past.
That victory ended a run of six successive league games without a win in Serie A, easing the pressure on Stramaccioni.
While Stramaccioni’s men seemingly have little left to play for this term, they will have one eye on bettering last season’s tally of 44 points.
Beating Inter will take Udinese on to 41 points and Stramaccioni is urging his players to build upon what he feels was their most convincing home performance of their season against Milan.
“We’re on 38 points now and our objective for the season has been achieved,” he told Sky Sport Italia.
“That doesn’t mean we should lower our concentration levels, though. We’ve had too many peaks and troughs this term. The squad has to remain humble, [but] this was an important step forward.
“We proved what we can do [against Milan], putting in our best home performance of the season and winning deservedly.”
Bruno Fernandes’ return from suspension will provide a boost for the hosts, although Thomas Heurtaux and Molla Wague (both thigh) remain out.
Inter should also benefit from having Gary Medel back in the team after an accumulation of yellow cards, but the match will come too soon for Hugo Campagnaro (calf), Dodo and Jonathan (both knee).