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Roma v Lazio: Derby della Capitale Preview

The Derby della Capitale is steeped in history and laced with hate. However, with Roma chasing the title and Lazio hunting Europe, the 145th installment has immediate consequences for both teams.

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Roma and Lazio are separated by nine points. Roma and Lazio have each taken seven points from their last three matches. Roma and Lazio each call the Stadio Olimpico home. Okay, you probably knew that last one, but that's really where the similarities end, at least in terms of their recent form. While Roma was able to fend off Udinese over the weekend, those aforementioned seven points were anything but overwhelming, with the Giallorossi barely scraping by with a +2 goal differential. Lazio, meanwhile, are perhaps Italy's hottest team at the moment, ripping through Atalanta and Sampdoria by a collective 6-0 scoreline, with a wild 2-2 draw with Inter Milan sandwiched in between.

So, despite the identical point total, even the most ardent Lazio hater would have to concede they're playing the better football at the moment. And while the points are really all that matter at the end of the day, how many among us are confident that Roma are heading in the right direction? You can only rely on luck for so long, form wins out in the long run, after all, and right now Roma just doesn't look right.

Roma v.LazioJanuary 11 15:00 CET, 09:00 EST Stadio Olimpico Roma, Italia

The somewhat ironic part about this rivalry, at least over the past decade, is that Roma and Lazio's fortunes rarely rise in tandem; when one soars, the other falters. But when you take all the historic vitriol present in this rivalry and set it against the backdrop of Roma's title hunt, Lazio's thirst for European play, and the always pernicious transfer rumors, the 145th Derby della Capitale takes on a sense of urgency we haven't seen in many years.

No need to dive back into the history of this rivalry. Roma fans hate Lazio fans, Lazio fans hate Roma fans. Its politics, it's history, it's absurd and it's exciting.

So what will round 145 bring?

A Look at Lazio

First up, the obligatory team rankings. After 17 weeks of play, Lazio sits tied with Napoli for third in Serie A, nine points adrift of their second place city rivals. Lazio's 31 goals scored and +12 goal differential each rank third in the league, while they rank top ten in most of your standard offensive categories. Despite their lack of a noteworthy star, Lazio is a solid squad.

Lazio's offensive success, somewhat like Roma's in seasons past, has been a cooperative effort, with several players sharing the goal scoring spoils. But, if you had to pull out a few for praise, look no further than 21-year-old Brazilian midfielder Anderson and Italian international Antonio Candreva, each of whom has been integral in their recent success.

Anderson, a relative newcomer, has been on a tear this month, grabbing all four of his goals and tallying all four of his assists this season in his last 335 minutes of action alone. Anderson has performed on either side of center forward Filip Djordjevic, Lazio's leading goal scorer, averaging 2.9 dribbles per match and appears set to battle Stefano Mauri for playing time going forward.

But the real lead eagle here is the criminally underrated Candreva. Through 14 appearances, Candreva has scored two goals and notched a league leading seven assists, while averaging a club leading 3.2 shots, 1.9 key passes and 2.0 crosses per match, the latter being the league's fifth best mark. Candreva can do a little bit of everything, play virtually anywhere, and do it all exceedingly well. Laziale or not, you have to respect what this man can do.

Behind the ball, Lazio are perhaps even more effective. The Biancoceleste's 9.8 shots conceded per match are the league's lowest amount, save for the Old Lady, while they lead the league in tackles per match and trail only Roma and AC Milan in interceptions per match. Led by Dusan Basta and summer signee Stefan de Vrij, Lazio's defense is quick, incisive and remarkably effective.

Not exactly what a flat-lining Roman offense needed to see this weekend.

Hand Me That Phillips Head

Is a common refrain among DIY experts the world over; there's nothing that can't be fixed without a can of WD40, some duct tape and a Phillips head. And if you can't salvage it with those three essential tools, it's not worth saving and you probably shouldn't have purchased it in the first place.

When you look at this Roma squad, very little has changed from the side that ran circles around Serie A last season. The faces and names are the same, and sure, Gervinho hasn't been quite as electric as he was last season, but with Adem Ljajic's rise to prominence, a full season of Radja Nainggolan, and Miralem Pjanic's continued rise towards stardom, one could make the argument that this team is actually better than last year's, at least on paper, which has led many to believe that all Rudi Garcia needs is that proverbial screw driver to set things right.

But what does he tweak? What needs tightening? Are there some parts that are better fixed with a mallet?

Given how little changed over the summer, these questions are quite vexing. Roma is deeper this season, the players have an added year of familiarity with Garcia, and Juventus has finally shown signs of vulnerability, this was supposed to be the year.

And, perhaps it's a measure of how far we've come, particularly given that statistically speaking, Roma isn't far off last year's pace, but something just seems wrong. Has the league figured out Garcia already? Have the players turned a deaf ear to him? Do Strootman and Destro have one foot in Rome and one out the door? Or might we simply be spoiled? Could this merely be a temporary blip on the radar?

Let's take a step back and consider what the club were up against as the season started. Not only were they fresh off a record breaking campaign, one which would've earned them the Scudetto in nearly every other season on record. If a club record season wasn't good enough to capture the title, what can you possibly do to improve? How do you overcome that disappointment?

But Roma marched on, venturing back into Europe for the first time in four seasons, all while attempting to assimilate new, expensive and incredibly naïve talent at key positions, while riding a wave of unprecedented optimism, enthusiasm and pressure.

In a sense,  these are good problems to have, but envisioning a future that may come tends to blind you to what you already have and what you've already achieved.

Garcia's football hasn't been as spellbinding as it was last season, but here we are in 2015 and Roma has a legitimate shot to unseat Juventus and a nine point cushion over third place Lazio and Napoli. Things may not look and feel great, but Roma is still primed for success.

And with all that pressure and all those expectations, it's only fitting that the season's first derby has actual consequences for both sides of the city.

History and hate imbued with immediacy, would you really want it any other way?