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Lazio Preview: In The Name Of The Totti

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It promises to be a thrilling derby, but sadly without one very special guest

AS Roma v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

How nice of the FIGC to plan this derby right after an international break, so the tension and excitement is almost unbearable by now. Rarely a derby has been so important as this one. Both teams are coming off a nice 12/12 (Lazio even have six wins in a row) and are just separated by one point in the standings, both have a game in hand. No one believed it in the Summer but both teams are serious candidates for the Scudetto this season and now face each-other in the Roman derby. When was the last time that happened? A win in a derby is always huge, but this result could seal their fate of the entire campaign.

You see, the winner keeps the teams up front (Napoli, Juve) in sight or creeps even closer to the top. The loser could already be 8 to 7 points behind the leaders. At the pace which Serie A is going right now, that’s massive and I didn’t even talk about the mental aspect. So yeah, one of Lazio or Roma could suffer a serious blow this weekend, and this against the hated neighbors... That makes it even more bitter.

Lazio have enjoyed a splendid campaign so far. Wins against Milan and Juve (twice already) means the Biancocelesti are no push-overs while the thrashings of Sassuolo and Benevento show they have more than enough firepower to scare every team in Italy. They are led by current top-scorer Immobile (14 goals in 11 games) but also Luis Alberto and Milinkovic are two of Serie A’s finest talents at the moment. Brazilian wizard Felipe Anderson will probably miss the derby but he wasn’t our biggest concern to begin with, not by a mile.

Now, let’s leave the ugly blue side of town and move on to the true color of Rome: Red. After three narrow 1-0 wins against clearly inferior teams, Roma finally unleashed its cannons against Fiorentina (a traditionally difficult trip for the Giallorossi) and went home with a sounding 2-4 win. It’s a shame there was an international break coming up because all pieces of Eusebio’s puzzle started to click at last. Way to break the momentum, FIGC!

Then again, this international break also gave the club some much needed time to welcome back the injured absentees. Emerson was already called up for Fiorentina and is nearing his official comeback, while Schick seems very close to recovery (a cameo against Genoa seems more likely though). Nainggolan got injured during training with Belgium last week, but seems to make the derby in time. That alone is a big plus for Roma.

Apart from the broken (mentally and physically) Karsdorp, it seems Eusebio has an almost full healthy squad at his disposal. *Ow hi there Nura, didn’t see you!*

The frontline of Perotti-Dzeko-SES seems a certainty. Manolas, Kolarov and Florenzi are sure starters while one of Fazio, Jesus or Moreno will partner the Greek at the heart of the defence. In goal Lobont Alisson will save the day, as he did multiple times already. Nainggolan could start on the bench, just for the sake of his legs. In that case, Pellegrini will start in his first derby ever. And boy, it promises to be a heated one.

It’s going to be a special game for Kolarov as well. The Serb has a Lazio history as we all know, but ironically he’s now one of the more popular guys in the red part of Rome, thanks to his three goals, dangerous free-kicks and corners and numerous runs on the left flank. Everyone is hoping for another stellar performance from Aleksandar against his former love interest.

Another interesting duel will be fought out: the clash of two promising, young Italians coaches: Di Francesco and Inzaghi. Both are predicted to have a great future but they didn’t exactly chose easy career paths, did they? In Rome there’s always a certain controversy, tension, anxiety and impatience. Eusebio needs to outsmart his nemesis on Saturday but it won’t be an easy task as Simone already got he scalp of Montella and Allegri due to his 3-5-2.

Last but not least: Francesco Totti. This will be the first derby in ages (the nineties, remember those?) that won’t feature Francesco on the pitch or bench. It’ll be my first derby experience without Er Pupone carrying Roma ons his back. Pellegrini and Florenzi are nice, little jewels but Totti was, is and will always be the symbol of AS. He’ll be in the stands, in a suit, alongside fellow managers, businessmen, big shots... Wonder how he’ll feel about tomorrow evening. Yet, we can’t fret too much about past. We cannot wind back the clock, so I guess we’ll have to live with it.

In the past there was an assumption during derbies: the club that was the lowest in the standings, was the most dangerous side because, well, f*ck logic during derbies. But now that these two sides are practically equal in terms of performances and wins, this is a toss-up. Lazio scored more goals but also conceded more, while Roma has been sparingly in the scoring department, but its defense looks more solid, including more clean sheers. I have a feeling this one won’t end in a draw.

The players, the coaches, the passionate fans, the referee, it all collides on Saturday when one of the most intense fixtures of Europe returns to the stage By now I think I gave you enough reasons to watch this game.

Unfortunately Totti isn’t one of them. So let’s win this one for Francesco, shall we?