Serie A: Mancini returns to Lazio on cloud nine

December 18, 2006

MILAN, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini returns to former club Lazio on Wednesday as the Serie A leaders look to extend their record nine match winning streak.

Inter's 2-0 win over Messina on Sunday broke the the club record that had lasted since the 1939-40 season and prompted some in the media to compare Mancini with some of Inter's most successful coaches.

The former Sampdoria and Lazio striker has been keen to play down the plaudits though.

'It's an honour to be linked to certain coaches who have made the history of Inter and football, but there's still a long time to go for these things,' said Mancini, who has injury worries over Argentine defender Walter Samuel and French midfielder Patrick Vieira.

Inter's latest victory left them seven points clear of AS Roma, who beat third-placed Palermo 4-0 on Sunday.

'The important thing is that we are ahead,' said Mancini, 'The others will be feeling a bit of pressure but both Roma and Palermo have the ability to compete for the scudetto with us.

'We want to continue on this path. We now have to work towards our next fixtures: before the Christmas break we have two games against Lazio and Atalanta, and they are the most in-form teams at the moment,' he said.

Lazio drew 1-1 at Livorno on Sunday but will take on Inter in confident mood after their 3-0 victory over Roma in their derby a week earlier.

The Rome club have risen to fifth in the standings and with AC Milan well out of the running down in 14th place, Lazio will fancy their chances of making a push for a top four spot and a chance at next season's Champions League.

Mancini was part of the Lazio side, then coached by ex-England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, which won the 'scudetto' in 2000 along with his assistant coach Sinisa Mihajlovic and Serbian midfielder Dejan Stankovic.

Inter's Argentine striker Hernan Crespo is another former Lazio player who will be returning to the Olympic stadium for a fixture which has painful memories for Inter supporters.

In May, 2002, Inter took on Lazio in the capital on the final day of the season on top of the league but a 4-2 defeat allowed Juventus to take the title at the final hurdle.

Second-placed Roma face a tough task away to a Torino side who are unbeaten in five games while Milan will expect victory at home to Catania.