Roberto Mancini has rejected the suggestion that Inter are favourites to win the Serie A title.
Inter are guaranteed to enter the mid-season break at the top of the table as they lead Fiorentina and Napoli by four points ahead of a home match against Lazio on Sunday, which is the final round of calendar year in Italy.
Mancini is expecting a tricky encounter against one of his former clubs and claimed Fiorentina, Napoli and defending champions Juventus are more likely Scudetto winners than his own squad due to the state of the club he inherited for his second spell at the helm last November.
"I think Juventus, Napoli and Fiorentina are the favourites, then we'll see what happens," he told a news conference.
"We still need to improve a great deal, but starting the season from June was very different to taking it over in November last year.
"Was being out of Europe an advantage? Yes, I won't rule that out, as it gives you more time in training.
"The truth is Inter were a long way off the standards of this club. Even in difficult moments, Inter should always be at least in the top five."
Despite their coach's caution, Inter's eighth-place finish last season seems an increasingly distant memory.
This time around, Lazio find themselves languishing in 12th but Mancini has demanded a "perfect" performance to see off the capital city club.
"We hope the concentration has remained even so close to Christmas. It will be a difficult game, as Lazio have quality," he added.
"We want to be aggressive from the start, but that's not easy in Serie A. We must be perfect to beat Lazio. Their current position in the table does not reflect their real worth."
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