Adem Ljajic is well aware of the importance of Inter’s mouth-watering clash against high-flying Roma in Serie A on Saturday.
The playmaker takes on his former club when Inter travel to Stadio Olimpico and face the team who sit third in the standings, five points clear of the Nerazzurri in the race to qualify for the Champions League with nine games to go.
And ahead of the match, Ljajic admits he never expected to be meeting Roma in such a pivotal clash because he felt they would be Scudetto candidates this season.
“Before the beginning of the season I would never have said this match would be decisive for the Champions League,” he told Premium Sport.
“I thought Roma would be fighting for the Scudetto, but here we are. It will be a very important game, especially for us as we are five points behind.
“We have to try and win to reach third place, which is very important for us. It is not a grudge match for me – I was very happy at Roma. I had two wonderful years there and made many friends who will be with me for life.
“The city is beautiful and I love the club, but in my head now there is only Inter. lt will be a special game for me and I will experience many emotions, but I’m just thinking about giving everything for my team. We will see who wins.”
Inter have won three of their last four league matches but are behind Roma in the form table, with Luciano Spalletti’s men having put together a run of eight straight top-flight wins.
Mancini’s men have won their last two league games against Roma and the last time they won three in a row was back in 1998.
But Roma have not lost at home to Inter since October 2008 and Spalletti will know that victory would all but kill off the visitors’ Champions League qualification hopes.
“We are doing some good things but I think there is always room for improvement,” he said.
“That is where our focus needs to be – on achieving our next goal. The players feel more confident in their ability. We needed to help them show that more.
“Over the last two years the team has finished near the top of the table twice and that’s because there was good work done here before.
“That said, the league is more competitive this year than it was last time around – top players have come back to Serie A and that’s driven the level of the Italian game back up.”
Hosts Roma hope to welcome back Antonio Rudiger (arm), but are still expected to be without Norbert Gyomber (foot).
Inter are hoping that captain Mauro Icardi can recover in time to play some part in the match after suffering a knee problem against Bologna last time out.
Rodrigo Palacio is suspended and Stevan Jovetic (muscular problem) has not played in the league since February 20.