With traditional heavyweights Juventus and Napoli squaring off in the first half of the Coppa Italia semi-finals today, and with Roma v. Lazio waiting in the wings tomorrow, the Coppa Italia schedule makers really lucked out this year; you couldn’t have asked for a better pairing of semi-final matchups, and it’s a two-leg affair to boot. Pretty shrewd, FIGC, pretty shrewd.
Obviously, this particular final four was purely coincidental, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting, right?
Lazio v. Roma: March 1. 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Adding further fuel to that fire, both Roma and Lazio are in fine form, with the eagles winning three of their past four matches, while the giallorossi are absolutely scorching, winning five of their past six, and, more importantly, taking the honors in the last four Derby della Capitales, dominating Lazio to the tune of a 10-2 scoreline. In fact, the last time Roma didn’t beat Lazio was during the Totti selfie match, which seems like ancient history at this point, but was little more than two years ago.
Fortunately for Roma, most of Luciano Spalletti’s usual charges are raring to go, with the long-injured Alessandro Florenzi being the only missing piece. With that in mind, look for a return to Spalletti’s normal 3-4-2-1 with Emerson rejoining the starting lineup after missing the Inter match due to some muscle fatigue. With so much at stake over the final three months of the season, don’t expect much deviation from that lineup; it took a few months, but Roma seems to have settled on their A-team.
So let’s take a quick look at who that A-team will be running up against when they “visit” Lazio tomorrow.
Ciro Immobile vs. Federico Fazio
Don’t look now, but the Ciro of old is back. After a couple of wasted seasons with Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and even his return to Torino, the vintage Immobile (think 2013-2014) seems to have settled into life on the ugly side of the Olimpico, bagging 15 goals in all competitions. But, as we all know, Roma is currently enjoying a rebirth of their own, that of Federico Fazio, arguably the league’s best defender this season. With 10 of Immobile’s 14 goals coming right in the penalty area, Fazio will have his work cut out for him, but Fazio has been immaculate this season; efficient, smart and intuitive. Good luck, Ciro. You’ll need it.
Felipe Anderson vs. Roma’s Left Side
Somehow, someway, Lazio has managed to hang onto Anderson for almost four seasons now, despite increasing interest in his signature each and every summer, and their resistance has been rewarded in spades. Through 26 appearances (all comps), Anderson has scored three goals and chipped in eight assists, all while averaging two key passes and 3.4 dribbles per match. Anderson is, quite simply, Lazio’s prime mover and is fast becoming one of the league’s most versatile attacking talents. It will be up to Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman and Emerson to keep Anderson in check—if he runs rampant down Roma’s left side, he’ll easily stretch Roma’s defense, thereby giving Immobile more freedom in the box. Gotta stop him, plain and simple.
Radja Nainggolan vs. Lucas Biglia
Over the years, we’ve become so accustomed to casting Nainggolan as a single-minded, hard hitting, brick shithouse of a midfielder that it’s sort of masked his development as an attacking midfielder. And yes, I had my doubts and concerns about his role earlier in the year, but don’t look now, Nainggolan is averaging a sturdy 1.6 key passes per match. While this isn’t exactly peak-Totti we’re talking about here, Nainggolan has taken to his role as Roma’s modern day Perrotta with aplomb, morphing himself into a quasi number ten. All of which makes him a headache for the lynchpin of Lazio’s midfield, Lucas Biglia, who will be charged with, among other things, hemming Nainggolan in, confining him to the middle third of the pitch.
Despite their sterling record against Lazio the past two seasons, you never want to assume victory in a derby, especially not one as combustible as this. However, if Roma can impose their will tomorrow, moving the ball quickly up the pitch and towards Edin Dzeko, then history should have a good chance of repeating itself.