ROME, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Serie A's most improved side AS Roma host fifth-placed Livorno at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday (kickoff 1400 GMT) as the race for Champions League places hots up.
Five successive wins have taken Roma to within a point of fifth-placed Livorno and seven behind Fiorentina in fourth.
Leaders Juventus (56 points) go into their match against mid-table Ascoli with an eight-point cushion over nearest challengers, Inter Milan, who travel south to play bottom club Lecce.
Third-placed AC Milan put their 100 percent winning record at the San Siro on the line against Sampdoria.
Roma's renaissance has been the major surprise of the season. Last year four different coaches came and went as the 2001 champions fought until the penultimate round of matches to ensure they didn't go down to Serie B.
The start of this season under new boss Luciano Spalletti was not much more promising with erratic results on the pitch overshadowed by Antonio Cassano's long-running contract dispute.
Cassano's departure to Real Madrid earlier this month seems to have cleared the air, however, and the team he left behind is now playing with a flair and fluency not seen since coach Fabio Capello packed his bags for Juventus.
Roma captain Francesco Totti has, as usual, been the team's most reliable goalscorer, but winger Mancini's excellent form has played a big part in the revival.
The Brazilian has scored four times in Roma's last three matches and Spalletti will hope he can continue the run against Livorno, who have drawn their last three games to lose a little momentum.
As well as pushing for a win, Roma and Livorno will hope Fiorentina drop points away against Udinese.
Udinese, with just one win in eight, have lost striker Vincenzo Iaquinta to injury, captain Valerio Bertotto to suspension and midfielders Sulley Muntari and Christian Obodo to the African Cup, but Fiorentina's poor form away form - three wins in 10 matches this season - suggests an upset is possible.
Juve welcome striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic back from suspension for the game against Ascoli. The rangy Swede is expected to partner David Trezeguet, pushing Alessandro Del Piero back on to the bench.
Inter should have few problems overcoming bottom-of-the-table Lecce, who sacked their coach Silvio Baldini midweek and replaced him with youth team manager Roberto Rizzi.
Injuries to striker Fabio Bazzani and midfielders Max Tonetto and Andrea Gasbarroni have weakened Sampdoria's squad for their Milan trip.