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Derby della Capitale Preview: Totti's Last Stand?

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With a cloud of uncertainty hanging over his head, this might be Francesco Totti's final derby. Will the captain shine as Roma looks to remain unbeaten in the spring?

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

As far as international breaks are concerned, this one was about as monotonous as Episode VII. We were privy to the usual transfer rumors and absurd accusations we see bandied about every spring, but at least none of Roma's players were hurt on international duty, so we'll chalk this break up as a win. Speaking of wins, while Roma's eight match winning streak was snapped against Inter Milan, their 1-1 draw kept alive their unbeaten streak. Semantics, sure, but Roma hasn't been defeated in nearly two months.

Roma v.LazioApril 3 15:00 CET, 09:00 EST Stadio Olimpico Roma, Italia

And what better way to jump back into the fray than the latest rendition of the Derby della Capitale. The 152nd rendition of this rivalry sees 8th place Lazio play the role of host while Luciano Spalletti's 3rd place side will suit up in their away kits...I think, there's not much rhyme or reason to these things sometimes.

This is the point where we usually post highlights of the last match, but given everything that's transpired in 2016, the word last carries a bit more finality to it.

You Have Given Me the Purest Give One Can Ever Give

You have given me the purest give one can ever give

Energy

The energy to keep on going

I hope somehow that satisfies you

But I understand if it doesn't

Trust me I really do

Like you, I'm hungry for more

I purposely framed Totti's words in a stanza rather than what they were--simple, honest and heartfelt thoughts from an advertisement--€”because time, as it so often does, creates its own narrative, morphing Totti's words from the blase to the bittersweet.

Three years have passed since that promo was released. Three years in which Totti's importance, his legacy and his living mythology have increased exponentially. Three years in which Totti has played for three managers, eclipsed the 300 goal mark, became the oldest man to ever score in the Champions League, and once again came tantalizingly close to winning another Scudetto.

And despite those plaudits, despite those 20 years of memories,  this could be it. The last time Totti laces up his boots to face Lazio. The last time the King of Rome can express his gratitude in the only way he knows how. The last time his poise, grace and excellence take center stage in the Derby della Capitale, speaking for the thousands of hearts beating in time with his.

Or maybe not. The not knowing is the worst part, which will make the half empty Olimpico an even more tragic sight.

What we do now, however, is that Roma must keeping winning in order to tighten their grip on third place and possibly threaten Napoli for the pleasure of being Juve's bridesmaid for the third straight season. In terms of the Xs and Os of Sunday's match, it's all about Edin Dzeko--will he or won't he?

While Dzeko's goal haul hasn't been quite up to snuff, his impact on Roma's pace, shape and direction of play is undeniable, which was certainly on display in the second half of the Inter draw. So, really, beyond the ever present Totti question, all we're left to ask is simply how Luciano Spalletti will lineup the front three, which, in turn, impacts the Totti question.

If Dzeko headmans a 4-2-3-1, that leaves two possible entry points for Totti, subbing for either Dzeko or Diego Perotti. If, however, Spalletti runs out his usual strikerless formation, chances are a second half tactical change will revolve around Dzeko, in which the Bosnian Batistuta would likely come in for a midfielder, thereby shifting the formation and leaving Totti rotting on the pine.

If you're able to disassociate yourself from the broader narrative and focus on Sunday's match for what it is, another crucial derby, you'll be fine but the spectre of Totti's last stand could stain what should otherwise be an entertaining match.