Ranieri's relaxed Romans reap rewards

When in Rome... there was little option but to sit back and accept the traffic jam snaking away from the Olympic Stadium, breathing in the sweet smell of success mingled with the exhaust fumes.

It had all the makings of a long Saturday evening, no matter what the outcome of AS Roma’s top-of-the-table clash with Inter.
And considering that not one of the 70,000 inside the stadium could dare leave before the drama subsided, the trip back into the centre of the city was always going to be a laboured experience.

Of course, Roma now feel they are in the fast lane after such a pulsating win over the leaders and – never known to keep their feet firmly on the ground when flights of fancy beckon – the locals now believe that come May they will be dancing around the Circus Maximus, just as they did in 2001.

Back then, those festivities went on for months but unfortunately the revelries turned into one long hangover that has continued ever since.

So, when everyone is finally seated at the pizzeria some two hours later, the chatter takes on an ever greater air of exuberance. Even the slice of luck of Diego Milito hitting the woodwork in the dying moments is considered an omen that Roma will be champions, making it a fruitless gesture to urge caution.

It would have fallen on deaf ears anyway, or dismissed with a theatrical Roman wave of the hand – and rightly so; after all, who can argue against a team that hasn't lost a league game since October? The momentum certainly seems to be with the racy Romans and the priceless win over Jose Mourinho’s men was a test of nerve more than anything else.

While expectations are sky-high amongst the fans, tellingly the players seem as unflappable as their coach Claudio Ranieri.

Even Francesco Totti hasn't forced his comeback too soon – and he could well be the decisive factor in the run-in as Roma look to match the champions stride for stride. If one player can change a team’s fortunes for the better in an instant, then it's il capitano when he has something to play for – even if it is on one leg.

Totti and Toni: tip-top

Inter may have greater strength in depth overall, but apart from having the Champions League to occupy their thoughts, they seem to have run through their repertoire of formations, line-ups and personnel changes.

Mourinho may have played his hand once too often and there is very little else he can bring to the table – especially if he continues to leave Mario Balotelli out of the squad.

Their fractious relationship hit an all-time low just before the Champions League return leg at Chelsea when the temperamental teen apparently spoke out of turn to one of Mourinho’s assistants.

It was Gucci handbags by all accounts but when Jose got involved it became slightly feistier. The upshot was that the youngster’s prized necklace was snapped and – of greater concern – his relationship with the Portuguese rendered irreparable.

There is a touchy environment of a different kind at AC Milan where Leonardo has become increasingly peeved by Silvio Berlusconi, whose sly little digs at the team’s dip in form aren't matched by a willingness to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to reinforcements.

The first signing for next season will be Mario Yepes, the poster-boy signing for the club: a free transfer in his mid-30s who already lives in Milan.

Back in the here and now, shorn of the inventive Ronaldinho and Andrea Pirlo against Lazio the Rossoneri looked no nearer to becoming champions than Juventus – and you would have to say that Palermo, Napoli and Sampdoria are playing much more pleasing football deserving of a Champions League spot.

The title race will still come down to the current top three and Milan’s task looks the toughest over the next seven games, with Palermo, Fiorentina, Genoa and Juventus all to play.

Inter and Roma have similar run-ins, with the leaders facing Juventus on the same weekend as the Roman derby, but the Nerazzurri’s trip to Fiorentina will be crucial to their hopes.

However, no matter the opposition, this title could well come down to which side feels more composed – and for once it is the capital that looks the calmest place to be.

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