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Can Shorthanded Roma Outwit Lazio in the Derby della Capitale?

Derby days are here again.

SS Lazio v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

The 152nd rendition of the Derby della Capitale, the battle for the hearts and minds of the Eternal City, kicks off in exactly 24 hours, and while this doesn’t quite match the Spring 2013 edition, the one that doubled as the Coppa Italia finale, the ramifications are no less important. With only five points separating the top five on the Serie A table, and with only one point between these two sides, Sunday’s tilt between Roma and Lazio promises to be one for the record books.

And, in accordance with international law, Roma must enter this match with one arm tie behind her back, or more aptly two ankles. With Leandro Paredes and, more importantly, Mohamed Salah each dealing with their own ankle ailments, Luciano Spalletti’s side enters this match at a distinct disadvantage.

Lazio v. Roma: December 4th, 15:00 CET/9:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.

Disadvantaged or not, now is not the time for excuses, now is the time for initiative and ingenuity, so the manner in which Spalletti tinkers, adjusts and creates new solutions will go a long way in determining how successful Roma will be in surviving these next two weeks.

But before we worry about the Rossonero or the Old Lady, let’s take a look at the Biancoceleste of Lazio.

Lazio: License to I.L.L.

No, that heading isn’t a reference to the Beastie Boys seminal 1986 album of the same name, it’s a haphazard acronym identifying the key players in Lazio’s recent resurgence. Led by Ciro Immobile, Lucas Biglia and Senad Lulic, Lazio has stormed up the table in recent months, not losing a single league match since round five in late September.

While Lazio aren’t a top five statistical team, those three players, along with Keita and Felipe Anderson, has given the Biancoceleste one of the deepest and most multifaceted attacks in the league. With 27 goals, 59% of which came during the run of play, and 67% of which were created directly by an assist, Lazio has one of the most mobile and hard to pin down attacks in the league, spreading the play around and taking high quality shots. And as if that weren’t enough, they’ve been pretty potent from set pieces as well, scoring eight goals.

Despite that sharing is caring mentality, there is a bellcow in this herd, the recently resurrected Ciro Immobile. Fresh off two mostly wasted seasons abroad and a failed return to Torino, Immobile has caught fire this year, scoring nine goals in 14 appearances, though he hasn’t scored in over a month (jinx alert), so let’s hope that pattern continues.

Look, I hate Lazio so it pains me to have even dedicated these couple hundred words already, so let’s just leave it at this: between Immobile, Keita, Anderson, Lulic and several others, Lazio is a legitimate threat, not only to Roma, but to the rest of the top five. Overlook them at your own peril.

Roma: My Kingdom for an Ankle

If it seems like we’ve poured as much digital ink covering Roma’s injuries as their actual results, there’s a good reason. Between Antonio Rüdiger, Mario Rui, Francesco Totti, Leandro Paredes, Thomas Vermaelen and now Mohamed Salah, there haven’t been many Roma players who’ve avoided the injury bug this year, which at this point seems more like a particularly virulent strain of MRSA.

With Salah out of the picture until February and with El Shaarawy doubtful for this derby, chances are we’ll see if Juan Iturbe can conjure up some more derby magic on Sunday afternoon.

While we discussed the possibility of Iturbe shifting over to defense late in the week, this is a MASSIVE opportunity for Manu. If he can even prove to be semi-reliable in this cameo (should he actually play of course), this could pave the way for a consistent role with the club, a symbiotic relationship if ever there was one.

If Iturbe does indeed fill Salah’s shoes tomorrow, chances are the remainder of the formation will remain the same. While they’ve had some intermittent sputtering, Spalletti’s latter day 4-2-3-1 seems to have taken root lately, cementing itself as his preferred formation, thanks in no small part to Dzeko and Salah’s respective performances in that setup.

Once again, since this is Roma we’re dealing with, it just wouldn’t be right if someone wasn’t bearing the brunt of expectations, and that someone has been Radja Nainggolan. While Nainggolan hasn’t exactly been maligned—except for goals scored, his numbers are more or less in line with last year’s pace—he’s still receiving more than his fair share of criticism, of which we have been a part.

Naturally, the bitter irony in all of this is that a mere four months ago many of us we’re railing at the notion of selling Nainggolan, but such is life on the internet, and Rome for that matter. Numbers aside, something about his performance this season just doesn’t sit right; he’s not passing the eye test as easily as he did last year. Now, this could merely be an aberration, the burden of higher expectations or possibly even a subtle effect of no longer having Miralem Pjanic around, but whatever it is, something (admittedly small) seems amiss with Nainggolan, a point made clearer when we look back at his performance in the derby last year, which was, quite simply, epic.

Looking at that video, I’m inclined to believe that Radja is a victim of his own excellence. He was just so, so good last season, typified by his turn in last year’s first derby, that whatever misgivings he has this season have been amplified. However, with the current injury crisis enveloping Roma, not to mention the killer schedule coming up, Roma needs that Nainggolan to show up over the next fortnight. Anything less will doom them.

With Milan facing a pitiful Crotone side, there won’t be much help from below the table, but keep an eye on Atalanta v. Juventus, if the Goddesses can continue their fairy tale and Roma can hold off Lazio, this could get really interesting.

The Derby della Capitale seldom needs extra juice, but brother, tomorrow has gallons of it.