Milan: Former Inter Milan handler Andrea Stramaccioni has admitted the challenge of toppling his former club won`t be easy when he returns to the San Siro for the first time since his sacking last year.
Stramaccioni became the youngest coach in Serie A two years ago when he replaced Claudio Ranieri in March 2012, but was sacked by the end of the following season when Inter struggled to a ninth place finish.
After a solid start, his Udinese side have taken only two points from their last five games and have dropped to ninth, 16 points behind leaders Juventus.
A trip to Inter would always be a tough prospect for the northerners, but they face a side that is beginning to find its feet under new coach Roberto Mancini.
Stramaccioni, 38, believes Inter, who drew 1-1 with Milan in the city derby two weeks ago, showed plenty of improvement even in a 4-2 defeat away to Roma last week.
"It will be a tough game because from the derby to Roma last week, Inter have shown they have improved," Stramaccioni told reporters. "But we`ll be going to the San Siro to play our game and with our heads held high."
On what is his second spell at the club, Mancini suffered his first defeat at the Olympic Stadium last week where he was sent off for dissent.
The defeat dropped Inter to 11th, 17 points behind leaders Juventus but only six behind Napoli in the third and last Champions League spot.
However the Italian, who won seven trophies including three consecutive scudetti with the club in 2004-2008, has been welcomed with open arms by a team desperate to finish third this season.
Defender Andrea Ranocchia believes Mancini`s arrival has brought fresh energy and ambition to the club.
"Mancini is a believer right to the end, he believes in all of us and in the Champions League," Ranocchia told Gazzetta dello Sport.
"You can see in in the way he talks to us -- together in a group, individually, when he`s talking tactics and the rest, he conveys serenity and confidence.
"He also has a history of success, and that matters a lot."
Champions and leaders Juventus are away to Fiorentina on Friday.
Roma, who sit three points adrift in second, would be forgiven for hoping the champions suffer a repeat of last season and drop precious points.
A year ago, Juventus, with Antonio Conte at the helm, lost 4-2 to La Viola after the hosts launched a stunning comeback from a 2-0 deficit.
Not surprisingly, Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri admits Friday`s clash is first on the agenda ahead of a Champions League Group E decider against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
"We`re not thinking of Atletico. What`s more important right now is Fiorentina," Allegri told reporters on Thursday.
Fiorentina have endured a tough start to the season and coach Vincenzo Montella said his side will need "belief, sacrifice and humility" if they are to overcome the champions.
"Allegri`s Juve are unbeatable, have a strong mentality and an identity that only the great sides have," he said.
Montella, who is expected to hand a start to striker Mario Gomez alongside Juan Cuadrado, added: "But we certainly won`t be lacking motivation."
Roma, who will battle for their own Champions League survival at home against Manchester City next Wednesday, host Sassuolo on Saturday.
Napoli, 11 points behind Juventus, will look to reinforce third place at home to Empoli on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Milan face a tough trip away to high-flying Genoa, who sit in fourth on the same points as Napoli, while Sampdoria, in fifth a point further adrift, are away to Verona on Monday.
Fixtures (all fixtures 1400 GMT unless stated)
Fiorentina v Juventus (1945)
Roma v Sassuolo (1700), Torino v Palermo (1945)
Napoli v Empoli (1130), Atalanta v Cesena, Genoa v Milan, Parma v Lazio, Inter v Udinese (1945)
Cagliari v Chievo (1800), Verona v Sampdoria (2000)