For a derby as important as this one, Roma could not have possibly gotten off to a worse start. Looking listless and disconnected in midfield, Roma soon fell victim to Lazio's ever-improving offense, as Stefano Mauri capitalized on a Radja Nainggolan turnover in midfield to give Lazio the early lead. Not to be outdone, Felipe Anderson continued his torrid month, beating several Roma defenders and Morgan De Sanctis to double Lazio's lead a mere four minutes later. In fact, Mauri and Anderson took turns setting each other up and looked like they were going to run Roma off the pitch in a laugher.
We can't expect Roma to win every match, but we can at least hope for an effort, for some synchronicity, for some flair...for something. Roma in the first 45 had none of that, not a stitch. They looked so putrid, you could practically see the ‘Garcia Must Go' headlines in tomorrow's papers already. Totti was done, Daniele De Rossi had lost his edge and Juan Iturbe was already a sunk cost. You know, the typical overreactions that are part and parcel of loving this club.
Hyperbole aside, the story of the first half wasn't a complex one: Roma simply couldn't link up in the midfield and Lazio pounced on their errors to enter the dressing room up 2-0. Dominating Lazio in such an important derby would've been precisely what this club needed to silence their critics and to propel them forward into the second half of the season, but Roma's first 45 minutes were anything but dominant, and it looked as if Roma would fail to make a mark in a statement game.
But a funny thing happened in the second half. While life doesn't offer you many absolutes, when it comes to this sport, this country, this league, and this team, one thing is axiomatic: we have Francesco Totti and you don't.
Roma needed a miracle to even save face in this match, much less any points, and that's exactly what they received.
A Tale of Two Halves, A Tale of Two Tottis
Of course, when Roma needs divine intervention, there is only one man who can relieve our weary souls, Francesco Totti. For Roma to stand a chance to make a match of this, they needed to come out and hit Lazio in the mouth, a quick goal would change the tempo, the tenor and, as we saw, the outcome of this match.
Totti's heroics aside, there was another key element in Roma's second half turnaround. We discussed it briefly in the buildup to this match, but the subtle ways in which Kevin Strootman impacts Roma's offense, particularly in terms of his interplay with Totti, may go a long way to curing what ailed Roma down the stretch in 2014.
Based on his 45 minutes of action today, a fully formed Strootman really will prove to be a de facto transfer for this club. The Washing Machine was crisp, clean and effective in the second half, completing 85% of his passes, taking 43 touches and setting up Totti's first goal. Strootman is that something, that it, that indefinable presence that allows the other ten men on the pitch to do what they do so well, a fact that was immediately apparent in this match.
Strootman came on for Radja Nainggolan as the second half kicked off and immediately made his presence known, setting up Totti's record breaking 10th derby goal, his 238th career league goal.
Francesco Totti: 48th Minute
It didn't quite look like it at the time, but watching this replay, Roma's first goal looks rather nonchalant. Iturbe composed himself, ducked it off to Adem Ljajic, who quietly slid it back to Strootman. Roma's #6 took a calm touch before crossing it over to Totti, who had somehow snuck past Stefan Radu before simply slotting it past Federico Marchetti.
Not a world class goal by any means, but one that got the crowd immediately revved up and swung the momentum back in Roma's favor, but that second goal, now that was a sight to behold.
Francesco Totti: 64th Minute
Totti's first goal turned the Olimpico a collective 180 degrees, but we've certainly seen our share of short shrifted comebacks. Roma needed something else, something to push the crowd over the edge, something to make this derby memorable, and that's precisely what they received.
You simply can't make up shit like this, it would seem too implausible, too cliche. Totti scored a goal that men half his age would struggle to pull off. It's not as if his legacy needs padding, but he just keeps defying all common sense and good reason. Players this age, players this important and this iconic simply shouldn't be this good this late into their careers. Totti's equalizer was just an exquisite example of tact, intelligence, execution, and yes, divine intervention.
This goal was so nasty, let's take a few looks:
First off, props to Jose Cholebas, that was a lovely cross, but once again, marvel at how easily Totti was able to evade Lazio's defense, slipping right in between Lorik Cana and Radu to get on the end of Cholebas' cross. His run was so well-timed and so incisive that you barely noticed, but it was every bit as amazing as the finish.
Speaking of which...
It's hard to tell exactly how much air Totti got, but check out this angle and you can really see just how far he flung himself towards the ball:
I didn't pay enough attention in physics class to remember how to calculate distances based on angles and trajectories, but it sure looks like Francesco hurled himself at least five feet to catch up with that cross, lifting his 38-year-old legs above his head to beat Marchetti on the far post.
Simply amazing. I don't think we'll ever truly appreciate what this man has done and continues to do.
Evidence of the day Totti broke the internet. Via Reuters. pic.twitter.com/bBa7t6g2Fu— Anthony Lopopolo (@sportscaddy) January 11, 2015
Primed for Palermo
Yes, it would have been fantastic (orgasmic more likely) if Roma could've really capped off this rally with three points, but given how dreadful they were in the first 45 minutes, this still feels like a victory. Storming from behind in the manner they did, and denying Lazio two points in the process, should hopefully give Roma the good juju they need to make their mark in 2015, which starts next week against a suddenly dangerous Palermo outfit.
We'll save the detailed analyses and Destro drama for another day, but wherever you find yourself at the moment, make you sure you take a moment and truly appreciate Francesco Totti. What we're witnessing is truly unprecedented, at 38-years-old, not only is Totti playing exceedingly well, he's doing so in the most crucial matches, giving Roma early leads in the Moscow winter, securing last minute draws in Manchester, setting up match winners against Udinese and willing Roma to a point in the most crucial derby in over a decade.
While we should always be thankful for Francesco Totti, it rings more true in matches like this. Who else could have pulled this off, and in a derby no less?