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Roma v Lazio Preview: Coppa Italia Final

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The third derby is the most daunting. With both clubs vying for a spot in the Europa League, and with Roma seeking a shot an historic 10th title, Sunday's Coppa Italia Final promises to be the most epic in the competitions history.

Paolo Bruno

Try as I might, my words will never do the magnitude of this match justice. Not only is this the third Derby della Capitale this season, a rare enough occurrence, but there are a multitude of storylines at play on Sunday, each of which ratchets up the intensity in what is arguably the world's most contentious derby, consider the following:

  • This marks the first time Roma and Lazio have squared off in a Coppa Italia Final.
  • A spot in next season's Europa League is on the line, winner takes all.
  • Roma can become the first team in history to win 10 Coppa Italias, thereby earning a Silver Star, which will be forever emblazoned on Roma's kits, regardless of manufacturer or "rebranding"
  • Oh, and the derby falls on an election day

For all those reasons, and the simple fact that it's Roma and Lazio, this promises to be the tensest match contested on the peninsula this entire season, bar none.

But, since we're all Roma fans, I don't need to explain any further why your blood should be boiling on Sunday, so let's take a quick look back at the first two legs of this derby.

November 11, 2012:

Erik Lamela gave Roma the early lead in this one, scoring in the eighth minute. However, it was Lazio who'd escape with three points, besting Roma 3-2 on this evening, with goals from Antonio Candreva, Miroslav Klose and Stefano Mauri.

Goal Count: 5

Card Count: 9

April 8, 2013:

Andreazzoli's didn't fare any better in his first crack at the Derby, as a Francesco Totti penalty was all that spared Roma the ignominy of dropping six points to Lazio. Even then, Roma were gifted this draw following a Hernanes miss from the spot in the 49th minute.

Ultimately, Roma had several chances to take the lead, but were bested by Federico Marchetti, and even took a man-advantage in the 69th minute, following Giuseppe Biava's red card. Roma, know how that goes.

Goal Count: 2

Card Count: 8

Over The Past Six Matchups:

Roma: 9 goals, 23 yellow cards, 3 red cards

Lazio: 9 goals, 19 yellow cards, 5 red cards

So throw in a spot in the Europa League and a piece of league history, and an already volatile matchup becomes down right combustible. Needless to say, you're not going to want to miss this one.

We should also mention that Roma has only won two of the past six Derby della Capitale's, none since 2011. However, a victory on Sunday, with all that's at stake, might erase some of Roma recent struggles in this matchup.

Coppa Italia Final:

The final always takes place in the Stadio Olimpico, but in this particular Derby, Roma is the homeside, so let's tackle the visitors first.

Lazio finished the Serie A season on a down note, being blanked by Cagliari 1-0 on the road. Overall, Lazio won three of their final six matches, while dropping two and drawing one. On the balance of the season, Lazio maintained a +9 goal differential and finished 7th on the table, one spot and one point behind Roma.

The Biancocelesti finished in the top 10 in possession, passing, shots conceded, tackling, shots per game, shots on target per game and dribbles per game. Roma reached the same heights in those categories as well, so it doesn't take an advanced degree to figure out why they finished so close to each other in the table. Indeed, the last three derbies were decided by one goal apiece, so there isn't much between these teams on the table or the pitch.

It also doesn't take a genius to figure out who Lazio's best players were this season, Hernanes and Miroslav Klose. The German tallied 15 goals this season, a third of which came against Bologna. In one match. Prior to this deluge of goals, Klose hadn't scored since December-his 2013, beyond his personal defenestration of Bologna, wasn't terribly impressive, perhaps father time is catching up with him afterall. Nevertheless, Klose has scored three times against Roma, twice since coming to Lazio, so you can only discount him so much.

As for Hernanes, like it or not, the Brazilian is one of Serie A's best players. Hernanes netted 11 goals and contributed four assists this season, while ranking among the league's top-20 in shots, dribbles and chances created. For his part, Hernanes has scored four goals in seven matches against Roma. Hernanes, however, is in doubt for Sunday, as he's been dealing with a muscle strain that kept him out of last weekend's match, but with a spot in the Europa League on the line, you have to think if he's even 75% ready, he'll figure in the match at some point.

Beyond those two, Lazio fared as well as they did this season thanks to the performances of Antonio Candreva, Stefan Radu, Giuseppe Biava and Abdoulay Konko, the latter three being among Lazio's toughest defenders.

For Roma, the story is also of a return, in the form of one Francesco Totti, who should be plenty rested following his suspension last week. We'll have more on Totti's remarkable season in the coming weeks, but suffice it to say, his is a welcome return. He may never get that elusive Champions League title, but capturing his third, and the club's record tenth, Coppa Italia title would be a fine end to a personally successful season.

If you've been following us the past few months, you may have noticed how difficult it's been to nail down Andreazzoli's tactics and/or lineups, as his 16 matches at the helm have seen their fair share of tinkering, though he's shown a proclivity towards the 4-2-3-1 lately. This was the formation of choice last week versus Napoli, with Mattia Destro serving as the lone striker, supported by Erik Lamela, Miralem Pjanic and Marquinho. Although, with Totti's return, you can probably wipe Marquinho's name off that slate.

With a lone striker formation looking likely, the omnipresent Destro v Osvaldo debate will rear its ugly head once again. While the entire season, both league and coppa, is really one inclusive test, Destro is the leading scorer in the Coppa Italia, accounting for five of the club's eleven goals in this year's installment. He's also managed four goals in his last five matches, including two against Inter in the semi-finals. So while the difference between league and cup matches is effectively nil, in terms of what actually happens on the pitch, Destro has performed exceedingly well at each turn in the Coppa Italia.

But with both Destro and Alessandro Florenzi being summoned by the U-21s in Israel, and not returning until Saturday, odds are that Pablo Osvaldo and Miralem Pjanic will start in their stead.

Hey, speaking of midfielders...

What was interesting in last week's lineup, and somewhat surprising, was the double pivot of Michael Bradley and Panagiotis Tachtsidis, the latter making his first appearance since March. You'd have to say this somewhat curious selection worked quite well, as the two combined for over 100 passes, with Bradley completing an astounding 96% of his, while adding six tackles to boot. In this instance, Bradley sat deeper, taking the more defensive role, while Copy & Paste (Im resurrecting that) spent more time in Napoli's half, springing the offense with three key passes and three accurate long balls-certainly one of his better performances in 2013 and hopefully a glimpse of things to come for Roma's giant Greek.

But, if the latest rumors are to be believed, the always questionable tandem of Bradley and De Rossi has been utilized in training this week. If one thing has become painfully obvious this season, it's that those two cannot play alongside each other, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps Michael is secretly harboring resentment towards De Rossi's resplendent head of hair

Lazio is many things, some fit for print, some not. But one thing is for sure, they ain't Napoli-the league leaders in scoring, so the question we have to ask is, does Andreazzoli take the same tact against the less prolific Lazio attack?

In Andreazzoli's lone crack at Lazio, he rolled out a 4-1-2-1-2 ish formation, though this changed with a Destro-for-DDR swap in the second half. The results were mixed, as Roma kept a greater degree of possession and were generally successful in the passing game, but were outshot and lacked precision in the final third, particularly in terms of one-v-one scenarios; witness Lazio's 82% tackling success, Roma managed a paltry 53%.

But, if you had to pin down one thing that plagued this club all year, it would be precisely that, execution in the final third. Whether this was due to poor passing, poor shooting, precise tackling by the opponents, or just sheer luck, Roma's finishing was often a disappointing end to its sometimes sublime buildup.

Of course this criticism comes laced with asterisks, Roma did, after all, score 71 goals. But that's what we obsessive fans do, we pick nits.

As we take the temperature of the room, there appears to be a faction of Roma fans who'd rather bypass the Europa League altogether, feeling the midweek matches are too much for an already thin squad. While there is a lot of merit to that argument, we won't know how much until the manager for next year is selected and the cycle of purchases, sales and incoming/outgoing loans are settled. For my money, I think qualifying for the Europa League, albeit through the default channel, is a step in the right direction for this club.

While you can quibble about the merits of any domestic cup competition, the simple fact that Italy's is being contested by its two fiercest rivals, with a spot in Europe and league history at stake, makes this is as meaningful as a cup final can get.

So we'll wrap this up the same way we started it--words, no matter how eloquent or intense, cannot sufficiently articulate the gravity of this match.

Just know this, derbies this big don't happen often and the bragging rights may never be as sweet.