With the flares extinguished and the voices in the stands practically muted, today's match had the atmosphere of a Sunday kick about rather than the Derby della Capitale With the blue of the empty seats nearly washing out the green of the pitch, Roma and Lazio went toe-to-toe in one of the stranger derbies in recent memory. From an atmospheric point, it was more akin to center court at Wimbledon than one of the world's fiercest derbies.
Fortunately, the dour mood in the stands didn't translate to the pitch. While the first five to ten minutes were rather dull, Roma, as has often been the case since Luciano Spalletti took over, turned things on around the quarter hour mark.
With Lazio's backline down to nearly their third choice at every position, Roma ran roughshod through the middle of the park and the final third. There were so many back heels and tidy little passes in the final third, it almost looked like a training session. Diego Perotti, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mohamed Salah had a field day in the first half, bending the Lazio spine at their will, with the breakthrough coming just past the 15 minute mark
Stephan El Shaarawy: 16th Minute
No real secret to this one, Roma just took advantage of some incredibly lax Lazio defending. While El Shaarawy didn't exactly rewrite the textbook on heading, credit Lucas Digne with a beautifully played ball.
Spalletti's men would continue to press throughout the remainder of the first half and nearly made it two-nil late as Miralem Pjanic struck the upright. Given the way Roma dominated the first 45, Lazio should have counted their blessings that they weren't facing a greater deficit.
The second half of this match was quintessentially Roma and quintessentially Roma derby. I mean, the second half had all the hallmarks of a classic Roma performance--misfired, shaky defending, questionable subs--as well as the usual derby fare--multiple cards, missed calls and dirty tackles. It was, despite the muted surroundings in the Olimpico, very much befitting of a Roma-Lazio match.
As we alluded to, Roma came out the gates in the second half surging for a second goal, only to be found wanting. As the match moved towards the hour mark, Roma ceded control to Lazio, who, thanks to their shrewd substitutionsâbringing on Miroslave Klose and Keitaâsoon found space behind the Roma defense, stretching their once compacted shape.
Spalletti, slow to react as always, brought on Edin Dzeko in the 60th minute. While you could've made a case that Seydou Keita or even Diego Perotti should have been the first ones off, Dzeko paid immediate dividends.
Edin Dzeko: 65th Minute
Dzeko was Johnny on the spot there, pouncing on the rebound from Perotti's shot, which clanged off the post, giving Roma a temporary 2-0 lead. Given all his struggles this year, I'm sure I wasn't the only one expecting to see that shot go into the third row.
Lazio would pull one back in the 75th minute thanks to some shoddy keeping from Wojciech Szczesny, but Roma would be bailed out once more by an actual Roman.
Alessandro Florenzi: 83rd Minute
Seriously, what else can we say about this kid that hasn't already been said. Alessandro Florenzi pulled another wonder goal out from his bag of tricks, putting this match beyond doubt with this wonderful strike. Florenzi was in perfect position to capitalize on the twice deflected ball and absolutely buried it in the far post. It was far from his most spectacular goal, but Ale continues to amaze us with these sorts of strikes.
From there, the match got a bit wonky. Lazio kept pushing forward and Roma resisted, but as the match wore on, things got a bit testy, as the referee seemingly ate his whistle and ignored the plethora of dicey tackles occurring all over the pitch.
A two goal lead, especially in a derby, doesn't always give the most secure feeling, but DP8 would put this match to bet shortly before the whistle.
Diego Perotti: 87th Minute
I have no idea how Perotti got this much space, but he slotted this one home, cool as he likes, from 20 yards away with his weaker foot. It was a fitting end to an absolutely insane match.
While there were a few nervy moments early in the second half, this match was really all Roma from the word go. Perotti, El Shaarawy and Salah made mincemeat of the Lazio defense in the first half, while Lucas Digne, Kostas Manolas and Antonio Rüdiger did well enough in snuffing out Lazio's forward moves.
And yes, we can and should quibble with Spalletti's second half substitutions, but ultimately whatever criticisms we have with them, particularly the Iago Falque sub (he's essentially useless at this point), were rendered moot by the score line, which is really all that matters.
This victory was made twice as sweet thanks to our friends in Udinese, who toppled second place Napoli 3-1 cutting the second place gap to four points, which, thanks to Gonzalo Higuain's late match meltdown, might suddenly be more manageable if Napoli's 30 goal scorer is suspended.
In terms of things Roma can directly control, however, it all starts next Sunday against Bologna. So while this derby may have seemed a bit strange for a variety of reasons--the dearth of fans in the stands and Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti firmly entrenched in the dugout--it was yet another positive sign for Roma. While I won't engage in what ifs (what if they brought Spalletti in sooner etc), whether or not Roma eclipses Napoli for second place, things are definitely on the upswing.