Roma and Inter both looking for a boost entering Sunday's match
When Roma take on Inter, there are usually fireworks. In the last decade, the two teams have locked horns over league titles, cup finals and European places. Add in two-time Giallorossi coach Luciano Spalletti leading an Inter team on something of a resurgence, to the extent they are above Roma for the first time in many years and you've got yourself a spicy encounter.
What you've also got are two teams at a crossroads.
After shocking the country by taking top spot in Serie A while big-spending local rivals Milan floundered in schadenfreude-inspiring fashion, in their last six games Inter have picked up fewer points than Benevento and have dropped back into third, nine behind leaders Napoli.
Roma and Lazio are on their tail -- Roma are fifth but will draw level on 42 points with Inter should they win at the San Siro -- and Sunday's is a match that will either confirm Inter's work-in-progress status or kick them out of a miserable run of form just as the Serie A season gets going again.
For Roma, it is the first of the second round of matches with four direct rivals, of which they lost three in the first half of the season. Eusebio di Francesco's side entered the winter break under a hail of whistles and boos as all of the enthusiasm generated by a superb Champions League group-stage campaign and a superb win over Lazio drained away, one bafflingly lacklustre display at a time.
Now they seem to be locked in a battle with Chelsea for who can bemuse their fans the most with transfer activity. First, Instagram-offender Radja Nainggolan becomes the target of an apparently serious, monster-money bid from China, then Chelsea come for Emerson Palmieri and Edin Dzeko, offering €50 million for the pair and giving Roma the chance to sell off a promising young player and star striker just as the Champions League knockout stages come into view.
From a business point of view, both of those sales are good value and would represent profit that could be used to fund transfer activity that the club would otherwise be unable to carry out.
Sentiment aside, €30 million for a striker who will turn 32 in March is an offer you'll not see again and it would be understandable -- from a purely business point of view -- if that transfer were to go ahead. Dzeko will play on Sunday -- the club are not interested in Chelsea's "low" offer and the player seems very keen to stay in Rome -- but who knows? Never let it be said that the club wasn't capable of looking down past the pitch and straight to the bottom line.
Meanwhile, Roma have a Champions League place to chase and the pressure is on. More than 60,000 fans are expected at the San Siro as the locals continue to back Spalletti and his team despite the Nerazurri's recent downturn in form; Real Madrid target Mauro Icardi is ready to add to his sensational brace at the Stadio Olimpico and make himself the sixth-youngest player ever to score 100 goals in Serie A.
Sunday's match comes with a ton of pressure. Lazio host Chievo and, ahead of the Inter-Roma game, can stretch a one-point lead over their city rivals. In midweek, both Roman sides play their game in hand: Lazio host red-hot Udinese and Roma visit Sampdoria, who have picked up 21 of their 30 points at home and gave Juventus a shellacking there earlier in the season.
Diego Perotti is out, which causes problems in attack that Gregoire Defrel will have to try and solve, while Maxime Gonalons will miss both matches against Inter and Sampdoria, thought that is no hardship if his recent displays are anything to go by. With rumours increasing that Dzeko will be out the door by Tuesday, out-of-favour Defrel might end up becoming a bit more of a familiar face.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley