Roma v Inter: Ljajic knows victory is needed against former club
Adem Ljajic knows Saturday's Serie A clash at in-form Roma is critical for Inter's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League, which the club have repeatedly stated is their main aim for the campaign.
The playmaker takes on his former club when Roberto Mancini's men travel to Stadio Olimpico and face the team who sit third in the standings, five points clear of them in the race to reach Europe's elite club competition with nine games to go.
Ljajic never expected to be meeting Roma in such a pivotal clash because he felt they would be Scudetto candidates this season, but is now aware that they need to be beaten.
"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 Serie A matches, but Roma are on a stunning run of eight consecutive league triumphs under Luciano Spalletti.
Mancini's men, though, have won their last two league games against Roma. 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 Champions League hopes of the visitors.
"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.
Key Opta Stats:
- Both sides have won twice each in the last six meetings between them, with two draws.
- Roma have conceded a goal in five of their last six home league games.
- Inter have kept only one clean sheet in their last 11 league games.
- The Nerazzurri have gained only two points in their last five away games: their worst run since February 2014.
- Roma have scored the most goals in Serie A this season. They have also scored the most first-half (28) and second-half goals this season (33).