Lazio boss Vladimir Petkovic has proved everybody wrong, according to Inter Milan head coach Andrea Stramaccioni as two title rivals go head-to-head in Serie A tomorrow night.
The Bosnian tactician was met with little fanfare when he replaced Edy Reja at the Stadio Olimpico this summer, with fans and commentators divided on whether the former Young Boys and Sion manager had the talent and experience to build on successive top-five finishes.
But Petkovic has steered Lazio to within four points of Inter, who trail league leaders Juventus by four points, and Stramaccioni is wary of what faces his side in Rome.
He told inter.it: ``I remember the scepticism that greeted Vladimir Petkovic when he was appointed, but with his work ethic and the players' performances, everybody has been proved wrong.
``Lazio have been key protagonists in the championship so far. They're a match for anybody.
``They've only really come unstuck against Napoli but they are an opponent of the highest quality in the Italian league.''
The Nerazzurri are chasing Juve without a host of senior stars as injury continues to plague the club, but the Milan outfit have managed to make second place their own over recent months.
Referring to the personnel crisis, Stramaccioni surprisingly added: ``I prefer it this way.
``The things Inter has achieved given these conditions means we have the strength to do even better. At the very start of my project Inter have proved to be strong.''
Midfielder Wesley Sneijder has been omitted from the travelling squad once again as his contract dispute rumbles on into another week, despite Dejan Stankovic, Joel Obi and Gabi Mudingayi all being unavailable through injury.
Meanwhile, Lazio midfielder Cristian Ledesma is hoping for a suitable response to a frustrating goalless draw in Bologna.
He told La Repubblica: ``We just need to recognise that we have to improve because we all know we can do much more.
``What we did at Bologna was certainly not our best. We are playing against a team full of champions who can change a game at any moment.
``We have to impose our game on them. We've done that a lot at home and we have to learn how to do it on the road.''
Petkovic's men are unbeaten in five and bidding to win a fifth game in six, but striker Libor Kozak and defender Luis Cavanda both miss out due to suspension.
Sergio Floccari, Ederson, Cristian Brocchi, Mauro Zarate and Tommaso Rocchi are just a few high-profile names on a lengthy injury list at the capital club.