The Derby della Capitale is a unique thing, holding enough weight to render the results of the remaining 36 weeks of play meaningless; those 22 men, no matter where they call home, battling for the heart of the city over those two matches—those three hours, those 180 minutes, those 10,800 seconds and the interminable stoppage time--means more than all that precedes and all that follows.
Given the history and vitriol that accompanies this rivalry, you'd assume that every match is a classic, destined to keep you tossing and turning at night, but we all know that's not the case. Despite trading blows for 90 minutes, and accumulating untold amounts of cards in the process, sometimes the Derby della Capitale is full of sound and fury and signifies nothing.
But every so often, regardless of their respective spots in the table, these matches leave an indelible mark. More often than not, the derbies that resonate the most are those dictated by actual Romans. As Francesco Totti so rightly showed last season, when the Derby della Capitale is decided by one of the Eternal City's own, the results carry extra juice.
And while Totti and Daniele De Rossi have had their day in the sun, due to their respective injury woes, this weekend Alessandro Florenzi may (his own health permitting) get a chance to be the lone Roman leading the charge against Lazio, donning the captain's armband no less.
Given the light we shined upon him earlier, it's quite fitting that Ale stands firmly in the foreground of Sunday's derby. Florenzi has been passed the armband a few times this season, but there's just something fitting, something ceremonial, about Ale walking out of the tunnel with the C curving around his bicep that makes you think it won't be long before we start taking that sight for granted, and I mean that in the best possible way.
But, given how much attention we just paid to him, he'll probably miss the match, so let's dispense with the romance and move on to the matter of the day, Roma's renewed assault on the top of the table.
Back in the summer, I pegged Lazio as Roma's greatest threat outside of Juventus (whoops, sorry Old Lady) due to their remarkably balanced squad. Led by Antonio Candreva's playmaking, Lucas Biglia's steady hand and Felipe Anderson's nose for goal, Lazio was primed for a run at the top of the table, Roma be damned.
Well, funny thing. Outside of a solid three-week stretch at the end of September, Lazio has struggled to string together a consistent run of matches, losing three of their last four league fixtures, falling to seventh in the process.
While the aforementioned names have replicated their CVs reasonably well, it turns out that Lazio just isn't as extraordinary as I thought they would be back in the summer. Most of your major team metrics place them in the 7-12 range, so in that sense, their spot in the table is completely justified.
However, don't let their recent struggles fool you, there are still plenty of good reasons to fear Lazio this weekend. Chief among them is Anderson. The 22-year-old Brazilian has been on quite the tear lately, scoring four goals in his last six matches; he is, without a doubt, Lazio's most potent threat, one who has free range on the pitch, making him a concern for Roma's entire (still congealing) defense.
But, we're all familiar with Lazio by this point--if De Rossi plays, he'll probably take a chunk out of Stefan Radu and at some point, Senad Lulic will make you scream because he's just not that good, yet he always influences these matches-- so let's move the conversation to the other side of the ball, shall we?
Do The Dzeko
It doesn't make us geniuses, and quite frankly, it doesn't make us more than masters of the obvious, but it was becoming apparent to many that this club needed a massive injection of Edin Dzeko (here you go), and against Bayer Leverkusen midweek, that's precisely what they received, and it worked wonders.
With 44 touches and three attempts on goal, Roma's attempt to fully ingrain the Bosnian Batistuta paid dividends, as Dzeko scored one goal and set up another. While Dzeko did his usual non-goal scoring thing—holding up play and spreading the ball out wide—he took a fair amount of touches in higher percentage areas, putting one shot past the keeper and forcing a defender into a blocked shot on another.
Point being, the direct approach worked. Dzeko got the ball deep in the Bayer final third and provided Roma's attack with a central counter point to Mohamed Salah and Gervinho's winged ways, and with Totti remaining on the sideline, we shouldn't expect much to change this weekend.
As far as the rest of the lineup is concerned, well, there's just a bit more grey area there, I'm afraid. With lingering injury concerns for Florenzi, De Rossi and even Maicon, the latter two thirds of Garcia's starting eleven could be quite an amalgam of first timers or simply those unprepared for the Derby della Capitale.
If De Rossi isn't fit for service, we might see William Vainqueur make his derby debut Sunday, though there remains a glimmer of hope for Seydou Keita, though the world ‘hope' is largely dependent on one's view of the former Barcelona mainstay.
Ultimately, as far as lineups selections and rotations are concerned, very little has changed. Roma's ability to score goals should be the furthest thing from your mind. Dzeko can out muscle and out maneuver any of Lazio's central defenders, while Gervinho and Salah are unmatched by any of the Biancocelesti's wide defenders.
No, the problem, as we're all painfully aware, rests as the back. Week after week after week after week we must bear witness to the constant communication breakdowns and simple lapses in focus from Roma's back four, particularly the central pairing of Kostas Manolas and Antonio Rüdiger (I'm giving Lucas Digne a pass here because he's been the MVP of the defense this season), and at some point, they're simply not going to be able to overcome these late match lapses.
By now, you're getting the picture (if it wasn't ingrained in your mind already), so let's end things with...
Three Keys to Three Points
1. Score first: This seems simple and rather reductive, but when Roma scores first, good things happen. Garcia's men have taken first blood in seven of their eleven matches and have won EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE MATCHES
2. Tighten up in the final 15: Again, a no-brainer, but Roma has been done in by goals in the final 15 minutes. Through 11 matches, Roma has conceded five goals from the 76th minute onwards, while only scoring two in that same time frame. Focus, focus, focus. It's as simple as that
3. Stop Felipe Anderson: At all costs, Roma cannot be victimized by Anderson; he is, without a doubt, the catalyst to anything and everything Lazio can or ever will achieve in attack this season. Anderson has played a variety of attacking roles for Lazio this season and has made the most of his opportunities, putting an astounding 71% of his shots on target and converting over 28% of his shots into goals. Not exactly the type of guy you want to see going up against the chaotic duo of Manolas and Rüdiger now, is it?
That's it for this rendition. Win, lose or draw, expect plenty of cards, plenty of screaming and plenty of tears for one side of the stadium.