Following a fifth straight victory under new coach Leonardo, Inter Milan must be considered the favourites to win the Italian league title, according to Roma coach Claudio Ranieri.
The 3-2 success over Cesena yesterday moved Inter above Roma on goal difference in fourth place in the league. They trail leaders and arch city rivals AC Milan by six points but have a game in hand on all the other title contenders.
Added to their two wins at the FIFA Club World Cup with Rafael Benitez at the helm, it is now seven wins in a row for the reigning treble holders, and that is enough for Ranieri to consider them and not Milan the team to beat.
"Inter are the Scudetto favourites, all the others have to measure themselves against them," he said after his side dumped Roman neighbours Lazio out of the Italian Cup. While many assume Inter will win their other game in hand and go second in the table, just three points off Milan, Leonardo is more coy.
"The standings are still virtual because we still have one match to catch up, in Florence [against Fiorentina] and it will be difficult," he said. "So we'll keep thinking about one game at a time given that we have another tough match against Udinese on Sunday."
Inter were brilliant at the beginning against Cesena and stormed into a two-goal lead after just a quarter of an hour as strike pair Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito hit the back of the net. But Milito then had to hobble off with an injury, to be replaced by French flyer Jonathan Biabiany.
Cesensa mounted an unlikely comeback as Erjon Bogdani and Emanuele Giaccherini struck against a hesitant defence. Christian Chivu proved the unlikely winner for Inter, heading home fellow full-back Maicon's cross. But while there was much to admire in Inter's attacking verve, they were vulnerable at the back.
Leonardo suggested the Milito change had hampered his team. "It was a very difficult game, almost a paradox, we were playing very well, went 2-0 up but then we made the change and we tried to settle down, there was a bit of ping pong and what happened, happened," he said.
"But then in the second half we gave away less, fewer counter opportunities. In general it was a struggle with great sacrifice from everyone. We struggled a lot, it was the longest game of my life as coach but in the end it was worth it."
And the Brazilian played down the loss of Milito. "He wanted to stay on the pitch but muscles are very sensitive and you never know, he's not in pain but he felt it harden, it was better to come off.
"I don't think it's anything serious, we'll evaluate it in the coming days but without worrying excessively. It was normal to replace Milito with a forward, had I put on a midfielder it wouldn't have given out the right signal in this moment."