We say it so often that it’s nearly become cliche, but there is simply never a dull moment with this club. Amidst Monchi’s arrival, the club has been bombarded by transfer rumors, both incoming and outgoing, hitting on everyone from Kostas Manolas to Grzegorz Krychowiak to Kevin Strootman to Edin Dzeko and, of course, Franck Kessie. Lost among all that madness was the looming Derby della Capitale between second place Roma and fourth place Lazio, one that carries a little more significance now that Juventus has dropped points to Atalanta.
All of which is to say, Roma has dealt with the usual assortment of distractions while preparing for a monumental match. Despite the disappointing two-leg loss to Lazio in the Coppa Italia semi-finals, Roma has gotten the best of her city rival in recent memory, taking the previous four matches by an aggregate scoreline of 10-2; Lazio has been more of an annoyance than a genuine threat over the past two seasons. But will that trend continue, or was the Coppa Italia sign of things to come?
Roma v. Lazio: April 30th, 12:30 CET/6:30 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Before we delve into that, a look back at the reverse league fixture.
December 4, 2016: Roma 2, Lazio 0
Shortly after Christmas, Roma unveiled their sterling derby-themed/90th anniversary kits in stunning fashion. After trading barbs for the first hour or so, the usual derby fireworks were unfurled midway through the second half. In a span of two minutes, Kevin Strootman opened the scoring, while Danilo Cataldi drew the customary red card giving the final 30 minutes or so of this match an added edge. Radja Nainggolan would add another goal for good measure in the 77th giving Roma their fourth derby victory on the trot.
Looking Good for 50
Tomorrow’s home match against Lazio marks Roma’s 50th competitive match of the season, ranging all the way back to the Porto disaster from August to Monday’s triumphant 4-1 walkover against Pescara. Along the way we’ve been treated to an array of delirious highs and life-questioning lows, all the while hoping Roma could, at the very least, retain second place by hook or crook, and, well, here we are.
Roma has gotten extremely lucky in recent weeks as their two direct rivals, Napoli and Juventus, have each dropped crucial points. We’ll save the Juve speculation for a later date, but suffice it to say, a win tomorrow would narrow the Scudetto gap to six points with a huger than huge Roma-Juve fixture looming on the 14th. In the more pressing sense, Roma has a chance to maintain and, depending on how much help they get from Inter Milan, increase their current four point lead over third place Napoli.
After mixing and matching for most of the season, some of it by design and some of it forced, Luciano Spalletti has seemingly settled on a malleable 4-3-3, one which deftly morphs into a 4-2-3-1 when needed, as we saw Monday night against Pescara. Given the success with which that lineup beached the Dolphins earlier in the week, look for it to reappear tomorrow afternoon/after the bar closes/or when the sun rises, depending on your locale at present.
With Daniele De Rossi seemingly ready, and most definitely raring to go against Lazio, the only lineup wrinkle remains the intractable Diego Perotti versus Stephan El Shaarawy debate. Perotti is undoubtedly the better playmaker, one who can facilitate those subtle in-match formation tweaks we mentioned earlier, but he is woefully inconsistent. El Shaarawy, meanwhile, is the superior athlete and the one more likely to swing the outcome of a match in a moment’s notice.
Each alternative has merit, which is probably why Spalletti has shuffled back and forth all season long, but coming up smack dab against one of the league’s best defenses tomorrow, we’re left to wonder, what holds sway: Perotti’s playmaking or El Shaarawy’s explosiveness?
One thing is for certain, with the Old Lady dropping points, the excitement of Monchi coming to town and the return of the curva sud, tomorrow’s atmosphere should be electric. If Roma can walk away with three points on Sunday and keep the momentum rolling against Milan the following week, things could get interesting.
In the here and now all that matters is the derby, one which could be the final of Francesco Totti’s illustrious career. While we certainly hope that isn’t the case, it would be an utter shame if the final whistle blows and Totti is still in his track suit.
The Scudetto is more than likely lost, but for a fanbase as romantically motivated as Roma’s, nothing would be sweeter than to see Francesco Totti vanquish Lazio once more before...before...I don’t even want to say it.
Prediction: Roma 2, Lazio 1. Totti with an 89th minute winner.