Serie A: Confident Roma ready for derby clash
ROME, Dec 7 (Reuters) -- AS Roma's players will be brimming with confidence as they prepare to face arch rivals Lazio in the Rome derby on Sunday (kickoff 1930 GMT).
Six straight Serie A wins have established Roma in second place on 32 points, four behind leaders Inter Milan.
They also beat Valencia 1-0 in midweek to reach the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time -- a feat that eluded them even as Italian champions during the 2001-02 season.
'That was an important win, the crowning achievement of all our efforts,' said their coach Luciano Spalletti, who has succeeded where a string of others failed by uniting a team that was left shattered by the departure of Fabio Capello in 2004.
Under Spalletti, Roma are once again title contenders, they play an attractive, short-passing game and have the most prolific attack in Serie A -- three more reasons why Lazio will be desperate to knock them off their perch.
It is more than five years since Lazio last challenged for the title. Since then the club have sailed close to bankruptcy and lost almost all of their top players.
In Delio Rossi, however, Roma have found a coach able to turn limited resources into a dangerous counter-attacking side.
Inter, Roma and Palermo have already forged ahead of chasing pack, but with AC Milan lagging behind in the bottom half, the fourth Champions League berth for next season looks up for grabs and Lazio, who are seventh, are well equipped to push for it.
Their strike partnership of Tommaso Rocchi and Goran Pandev combines pace and skill, while former Italian international Angelo Peruzzi is one of the most experienced goalkeepers in the league.
Roma, meanwhile, are fretting over captain Francesco Totti, who missed the Valencia match with an ankle sprain.
'My ankle is still hurting, but I'll do everything I can to be there against Lazio,' said the striker, who is top scorer in the division with nine goals.
In the other matches, Inter travel to Empoli, where they will have to do without in-form midfielder Patrick Vieira.
The Frenchman, who scored the winner against title rivals Palermo two weeks ago and grabbed a last-minute equaliser against Champions League rivals Bayern Munich in midweek, is suspended and is expected to be replaced by Esteban Cambiasso.
Palermo, third on 28 points, will try to put a run of three games without a win behind them by beating Livorno on Saturday, while at the San Siro stadium AC Milan host Torino on Sunday.