Winning. That quick endorphin rush that gives you that smug little grin, a shriek of glee and makes you dance a little gig. 3 more points to add to the tally.
This wasn’t one of those.
Yesterday’s win brought out the animal. The base, fist clenching, expletive exclaiming, shirt-ripping, triumphant fury that comes from the release of a burden so heavy, a nightmare so deep it leaves the victor bellowing to the clouds. It was the lion roaring over the defeated zebra, the gambler when the ball stops on their chosen number, the shipwrecked survivor feeling the sand. It was Federico Balzaretti, it was you and it was me.
AS Roma needed that win. Not for the points, not to remain on top of the table and not to keep the winning run going. It was needed to put this squadra back into the reckoning as a football team that doesn’t thrive on winning trophies to keep fans, but captures imaginations, hearts and passions.
The last few years have not been kind to players and fans alike. This has been the mantra for 2013, which has been kicked off with a renewed ferocity. The hunger is back, and this time it is back with a working game plan and a freaking awesome Brazilian right-back!
So… the game!
Roma lined up in their well worn 4-3-3 with Balzaretti defying an injury scare and Gervinho getting a run ahead of an unlucky Adem Ljajic. The players came out to a rousing reception, as the Curva Sud hoisted a banner amongst a sea of giallorossi and above a gigantic AS ROMA, SPQR.
“Il mio nome e` il simbolo della tua eterna sconfitta”
“My name is the symbol of your eternal defeat.”
Or in layman terms, “Fuck your Coppa Italia, this is our city. Bitch!”
The Curva Nord was empty for the first two minutes due to some childish Lazio fan protest, where they left a banner out saying some crap about finishing their beers.
The opening half was typical derby football. Both sides were unable to force their way into key field positions as the tackle intensity began creeping skyward. Daniele De Rossi drove a snarling long range effort just over the top of Marchetti’s goal in what was pretty much the only shot in anger in the opening stanza.
Petkovic had set up Lazio’s midfield to expertly strangle Pjanic and Totti’s time on the ball and prevent Roma from moving around the edge of the area. Maicon’s runs down the right hand side were blunted by Okaka, Cana and Ledesma’s close attention, forcing Roma into a slow possession based game that was looking eerily similar to one sponsored by a Spaniard two seasons ago.
Without a striker in a red top, Florenzi and Gervinho spent most of their time running forward in fruitless chases for over-hit long balls. Indeed the Florenzi experiment in the front trident appears to be nearing its use-by date as he was marshalled out of dangerous areas by the defence time and time again. In accordance with the prophecy, he lashed out in a relatively meaningless challenge and picked up an early yellow card.
Gervinho spent the first half cruising around the field doing randomly stupid things and spurned a terrific opportunity when his massive forehead somehow failed to get enough purchase on a lethal Totti dead ball, the header hitting the turf and rolling harmlessly over for a goal kick.
Roma’s defence (that’s right its spelt with a C you heathens!) held up splendidly throughout the half with Benatia and Castan bullying Klose while DDR and Strootman sat back deeply to prevent Hernanes and Candreva from wriggling free into the corridors.
And then that dude in the fluorescent yellow (or is it green) shirt blew his whistle and the half was over. Nil – Nil, barely a shot on goal, both sides muscling up in defence and not offering much creativity. Yep, Roma derby.
Now I don’t know what Rudi says to the lads during his halftime talks. (Maybe he sings sweet French lullabies, or maybe he plays Al Pacino’s speech in Any Given Sunday). Whatever the hell it is, I want to bottle it and sell that shit on the Chinese black market.
Holy mother of Joseph, did Roma come out breathing fire in the second half!
Totti started to mess with the laws of physics, controlling a lofted ball with a deft backheel before being clattered by Lulic.
Lazio also began to move with purpose as the game shook off the tactical discipline of the first half like a wet dog next to a brand new couch. The space created by both sides lead to a quicker tempo as the full backs struggled to track back after launching attacking thrusts into the opposition halves.
Ciani’s header hit the bar and then Klose gave Bren’s heat maps the middle finger with a clumsy kneed effort that should have gone in. Suitably provoked, Rudi brought on young Adem Ljajic and then Cavanda got excited and belted Balzaretti over the sideline, unleashing the Totti show on the Olimpico.
Watching the master at the peak of his powers is a gift. Watching him put on an absolute master class against a flailing Laziale defence is freaking Christmas! Francesco was simply untouchable, curling irresistible crosses into the area and slick passing that had the dazzled defenders spinning around like crap ballerinas.
Ljajic, Maicon, Pjanic, Balzaretti, hell even Gervinho was getting in on the action, cuing up for interplay with their capitano. De Rossi, Castan and Strootman crashed in tackles against any light blue shirts reckless enough to carry the ball forward.
The pressure built, the Curva Sud whipped into a frenzy and then a pony-tailed left back crashed his shot into the upright and rebounded to Ljajic before being scrambled behind for a corner by the defence.
Roma hands went to heads. Surely that was our chance. This is the bit were the ball goes down the other end and we concede.
Whilst we were wallowing in self-pity, Totti quickly took the corner, got the ball back and teed up Balz for take 2. Boom.
The net rippled, the crowd exploded and Federico Balzaretti put to the sword months of anguish and self-doubt following the Coppa loss. The celebration that followed is what separates this team from the oil giants and sweeps fools like your humble scribe off their feet and glued to shitty internet streams at 1am on Sunday nights and Monday mornings.
Balz hadn’t had the greatest game, his forward runs and passing hasn’t been to the standard he is capable of. Put simply, there is no man in that squad who needed to score the deciding goal for Roma’s first derby win since 2011, more than him. His tears as the stadio bellowed out his name over and over, were the ultimate cathartic moment. Balz is back baby!
Traditionally, Roma 1 nil up in big games is sort of like watching a toddler wandering alone on an ocean pier. No matter what you scream at them, its pretty damn likely they are going to topple over into the drink.
Rudi has put a godamn kiddie proof fence on that pier!
As Lazio surged for an equaliser, Roma’s counter-attack football was breathtaking. Totti was unleashing runners left, right and through the middle. The team was tracking back and defending like men possessed and Gervinho and Ljajic were coming into their own as they flew towards a decidedly uncomfortable Marchetti.
All of this was possible thanks to the supreme domination of the king of Rome. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Totti cometh so many damn times in this match he would have outdone the Duracell bunny. Inspired through balls, astonishing ball control and reading the play like an oracle. Whatever Roma needed, Totti provided. When he slipped an impossible ball on the turn past two defenders through to Ljajic, Adem was too busy trying to figure out the mechanics of what just happened and ran out of field to chase it down.
For the record, Andre Diaz’s sending off was sponsored by Totti’s brilliance.
However, perhaps the most pivotal moment of the match, or the greatest validation of Rudi’s influence was a defensive moment in the 90th minute. Ederson stumbled clean on Roma’s goal and was pulling the trigger on what looked a certain heartbreaker when Capitano Futuro flew in to land the intervention of the season as his outstretched right foot diverted the ball out of danger. De Rossi’s tackle was a textbook example of the type of play that separates prom queen defilers from the punch sipping masses.
A second goal was a just result. The crowd, the coach and the players all earned it. Alas, Il Capitano had been substituted and was not able to drive the final nail into the coffin. Up stepped young Ljajic, who capped an inspired performance with his first Roma calcio rigore.
So after we finish pumping our fists in the air, and watching Balzaretti’s goal on you-tube over and over again what can we take from this emotionally draining 95 minutes?
Roma’s collective head is finally in the right place. The Rudi effect on this team cannot be overstated. Put simply, each time this season that the match has been poised to go either way, Roma have lifted as one and delivered that telling blow. This factor alone turns us from a mid-table underachiever into someone to be feared, particularly at home.
The defence is looking the beez knees. Benatia and Castan were sublime and limited one of the world’s best strikers whilst dominating the aerial contests. They are being ably protected by Daniele De Rossi who looks a bahjillion times better than the man he was under Zeman and Andreazolli. And Maicon is everything good about Brazilian footballers.
Beating Lazio was important. Beating them with a good performance that had everyone on their feet by the end was freaking sweet. The demons from the last few years have certainly not yet been entirely vanquished, however Roma is well on her way. Once again, will that performance have been enough against Napoli, Juve or even Inter? Maybe. But that doesn’t matter perche il derby no si gioca, ma si vince!
There is certainly enough material now to run a discerning eye over Rudi’s team and their performances thus far. But now is not the time for that. Now is the time to bask in the fact that the natural order of Rome has been restored. Go out and celebrate like Borriello at Miss Italia. You’ve earned it!