The two factions of Rome meet for the 171st time on Sunday, once again fighting for the right to be called the Eternal City's one and only. This struggle, tinged with politics, history, economics and class, is really about one thing, and one thing only; which club, Roma or Lazio, truly represents the people, the culture and the history of Rome herself.
Lazio's claim to the throne of Rome rests in chronology, as the club was established in 1900, nearly 30 years before the amalgam of clubs that eventually became A.S. Roma. Simply put, they are (like it or not) the oldest Roman team currently in existence, having resisted the 1927 merger that led to the creation of our beloved Giallorossi. But their century plus of history hasn't necessarily personified the city, neither in shape or form. While the traditional home of Lazio, Prati, isn't the most elegant section of Rome, it doesn't have the old school, working class roots of Testaccio (the heart of the Roma fan base) and remains decidedly middle class.
Testaccio, or "ugly head" for the truly Roman, represents the grittier side of the city, the real Populusque Romanis, if you will. This ugly head even has its own colorful history, starting its life as a pile of discarded terra cotta roof tiles in 55 A.D., at the behest of the emperor Nero. As the centuries rolled by, the pile reportedly got as high as 200 feet, eventually being compacted and built upon, becoming a working class neighborhood, whose denizens carved out caves in these man made hills, transforming them into everything from wine cellars to garages. The area was also the slaughterhouse/meat packing district for many years-how's that for working class?
While A.S. Roma in and of itself doesn't have as long a history as Lazio, the neighborhood from which it sprang was literally built on the wreckage of Ancient Rome and remains quintessentially Roman; passionate, unique, vibrant and resiliently draped in the colors of the city.
Speak of which, the clubs' choice of their respective colors was also a watershed moment in the test of which club was truly Roman:
The colors of the Capitol Gonfalon, yellow and red, became the team colors. Fascinated by the Greek myth of Olimpia, Lazio Club, born a few years earlier, did not even consider these colors. That decision may have been hard to understand by the masses that better recognized themselves in the colors of Capitol flag. This was probably the main reason why Roma became suddenly very popular, beloved by people of the old districts and of the city suburbs.
The fact that the two Roman clubs' achievements pale in comparison to their northern counterparts has fueled the Roman rivalry over the years. Not being able to compete with the more moneyed Milanese clubs, Scudettos have been few and far between for the two Roman sides, making the hearts and minds of the average Roman a highly sought after prize. Being the Kings of Rome is a title only two clubs can claim, making these fixtures the very picture of intensity.
History is an odd thing, it's full of facts and figures, yet it can easily be twisted to tell any tale. While Lazio rely on their longer history to lay title to the claim of the representatives of Rome, Roma, based on their working class roots, their iconic color, the number of actual Romans among their historical ranks, and even the sheer name of the team, makes them the truly emblematic Roman club.
Now, to Sunday's actual match:
While Roma may embody the spirit of the city to a greater degree, Lazio currently hold the bragging rights, having swept Luis Enrique's men last year with a pair of 2-1 victories.
If you doubted for a minute that this was a tense derby, consider the fact that, in the last 8 matches, there have been 12 red cards, 6 alone in the last five encounters, to go along with 39 yellows over that same five match span. As if that weren't enough, there have been 8 penalties in the last six matches, which might explain the fact that the opening goal in three of the last five matches has been a penalty, Hernanes has particularly benefitted from this, scoring three PKs in the last four derbies. Needless to say, this isn't a game of mixed doubles tennis.
Further intensifying this match, Roma and Lazio are separated by a mere two points in the standings, making this early season derby a virtual six pointer.
So who will be on the field attempting to secure those points?
While Francesco Totti suffered a minor hip injury, he should occupy his customary spot on the front line, alongside Pablo Osvaldo and Erik Lamela. Keep an eye on Lamela (as if you needed further reason to), if he scores Sunday, that will make six goals in six matches, putting him one shy of Rodolfo Volk's club record seven-for-seven run.
The midfield, as always, remains a mystery. Following a solid run against Palermo, Michael Bradley is making the case for more playing time, but was his performance last week enough to keep Daniele De Rossi or Panagiotis Tachtsidis on the bench? Doubtful, so look for the familiar Tachtsidis, De Rossi and Alesssandro Florenzi trio.
At the back, doubt remains over Leandro Castan's fitness, or least his complete fitness, meaning the central pairing of Marquinhos and Nicolas Burdisso will remain intact. Which is probably good, if things start to kick off, Burdisso is the man you want covering your back, afterall, Marquinhos is just a kid. The fullback duo of Federico Balzaretti and Ivan Piris should also make their first appearance in a Roman derby.
Meanwhile, Mauro Goicoechea looks to further his devious plot to steal Maarten Stekelenburg's job, as the giant Dutchmen doesn't look like he'll be dressing for match, leaving Tomas Svedkauskas as the understudy.
Mauro has looked quick, sure handed, capable of starting a counter and, of course, dashing in his brief time in between the pipes. While I support Marty, if I were him, I'd be updating my CV. I never really bought into Goicoechea's small frame and quick release as the selling point to rid ourselves of Stekelenburg, but it's hard not to get excited when you watch this kid-he's awfully infectious, especially for a keeper.
Lazio, meanwhile, feature a fairly potent attack, having scored 16 goals-good for 7th in the league and a mere 10 behind Roma (again, counting the three goals from the phantom Cagliari match). Unlike many of the other teams on the fixture list so far, Lazio have shown a slight tendency to attack on the right more than the left, which should test the fitness of Balzaretti. Lazio have also shown a penchant for creating and taking long chances, with 56% of their shots coming outside of the 18 yard box, which will surely test the composure and defensive commitment of the Roman midfield.
More specifically, Roma would be wise to mind Miroslav Klose and the aforementioned Hernanes, who have accounted for a total of 11 goals so far. Antonio Candreva is also off to a fine start this season, scoring two goals and dishing out four assists.
With only two points separating the sides, don't be surprised if one of the clubs find themselves playing for a draw in the second half (I'll let you guess which one), but local animosities aside, this is a crucial match, one which Roma must not lose.
While the most recent history favors Lazio, Roma have held sway over the course of the Derby della Capitale, compiling a 63-60-47 record, outscoring the Biancocelesti 209-167.
The date on the Lazio letterhead may be older than Roma's, but the actual history of the Derby della Capitale favors the south side of this rivalry, and with more than the pride of Rome at stake on Sunday, expect this match to be a nail biter.