As we like to say in Belgium: "It’s better to have a good neighbor than a distant friend." Yeah, we Belgians are a lovely bunch. However, in Rome things are a bit different. Even though Inter and especially Juve have done their damn best since 2006 to present themselves as Roma’s rival no1, it’s still the blue side of town that takes the prize: SS Lazio Roma.
Neighbors, everybody needs good neighbors. With a little understanding you can find the perfect blend. Ooh neighbors, should be there for one another. That's when good neighbors become goooood friends.
Aah, that sweet theme song from the famous Australian soap opera, who doesn’t know the lyrics? Or remember the sexy young Kylie Minogue? But I digress. Good neighbors can indeed become good friends, but in some cities it will never work. In Rome there has been a heated rivalry since both teams were founded, a derby that is among the biggest and baddest derbies in the world. I’m thinking Glasgow, Madrid, Bucharest, Istanbul and Athens or the war that is called football between River Plate and Boca Juniors.
There’s a certain pride that comes with derbies. The bragging rights. Roma held those for quite some time (somewhere between 2013 and 2016), but in 2017 Lazio emerged from the fires like a phoenix. They eliminated the Giallorosso in the semi-final of the Coppa and won the return leg in Serie A with a 1-3 scoreline. On top of that, Lazio has won two cups since the Americans took over. A Coppa in 2013 (yup, THAT final) and recently a Supercoppa against Juventus. Roma’s total since 2012? Zero, zilch, niente, nulla, nothing.
Ouch, writing that does sting a bit.
So, will they win a third trophy during Jimmy’s reign or will Roma make one up for all the past seasons? Since we’ve been talking and discussing a lot about Roma’s roster these days, let’s take a look at Lazio’s squad. Is their depth as good/bad as Roma’s? Did they lose any memorable names? How will their coach do against our own Eusebio?
First off, Lazio did lose a very special pawn this Summer: Lucas Biglia, who went to AC Milan (like everybody else). Biglia was their Pizarro, their Pjanic, their Kroos: The man who would act as an anchor in midfield and provide a link-up between defense and attack. The type who could break things open if a game is going nowhere and is still 0-0 after 80 minutes. It’s a heavy blow for the Laziale and probably hurts them more than Paredes to us.
They still have someone called Milinkovic-Savic though, who’s one of Serie A’s finest talents, but will he stay and walk among the goats, or leave to a bigger/richer club as well this mercato?
Apart from Biglia, it has been a very quiet and rather dull mercato for Lazio fans. Minala (that 20-year-old who looks like a 50-year-old) left and that’s it. They bought quite a few players but most aren’t worth mentioning here. Kishna returned from his loan at Lille while Lucas Leiva is the biggest name that joined the Aquile. The 30-year-old Brazilian midfielder had a nice spell at Liverpool but is hardly the player who will lead their midfield against one of Juve, Milan or Roma.
Recently they also bought Felipe Caicedo from Espanyol but his stats are nothing to be afraid of: 19 goals in approx. 90 games for the Spanish side. He’s also nearing 30 so don’t expect much improvement. Di Gennaro from Cagliari and Marusic from Belgian club Ostend are the other notable players who are new. But yeah, not really an intimidating mercato compared to Milan or Juve. Hell, even Roma with Moreno, Kolarov, Gonalons, Pellegrini and Under did better things. Admittedly the Giallorosso did worse than the neighbors in the selling department so that evens it out I guess.
Immobile, De Vrij, Lukaku (the left-back version), Anderson, Savic, Radu, Parolo,... Lazio do have some pretty strong players in their ranks. The brightest talent next to Milinkovic-Savic might still leave the Olimpico though: Keita Balde. If the Spaniard (yes, he’s Spanish apparently, from Barcelona’s academy) decides to leave this Summer alongside Biglia, then they got a problem. Balde scored 16 goals last season and was top scorer, I don’t see Caicedo repeating that trick. Also Hoedt is keen on leaving Lazio, a promising Dutch defender who has played nearly 50 games since 2015. It’s clear that their team can still be turned around by September.
Last up: the trainer. Simone Inzaghi. Ironically, both Roman trainers have a history with their club. We all know Eusebio was part of Roma’s scudetto side in 2001. Simone, Filippo’s younger brother, played more than 120 games as a striker for Lazio and scored almost 30 goals for them, which is impressive. Guess what, Simone also won the league as a player with Lazio in 2000, just one year before Eusebio did the same trick with Roma. It seems both managers are very much alike in many ways.
Both trainers use different formations though. Eusebio likes the 4-3-3 while Inzaghi used a 3-5-2 during the Supercoppa final against Juve. Lulic and Basta were the attacking fullbacks while Savic played behind Immobile up front. 21-year-old Murgia scored the winning goal that evening while 22-year-old Strakosha seems Simone’s no1 between the sticks, so Inzaghi isn’t afraid to use youth as well. It’s gonna be an interesting duel between these two guys. Last season Eusebio lost both fixtures (Lazio-Sassuolo) with 2-1, in 2015-2016 Sassuolo won both encounters.
There’s one huge difference: Inzaghi already has a head start, it’s his second season as head coach of Lazio and knows his players better. He also gave Lazio their first prize since 2013: the Supercoppa. You could say he’s making a name for himself a the blue side. He extented his contract until 2020 and already is a fan favorite while Eusebio has everything to prove right now. There are still many doubters in and around Rome while Inzaghi can take some criticism, he already won a prize this season and led Lazio back into Europe.
Nevertheless, I predict Lazio to finish somewhere between fifth and seventh this season. Due to the renaissance of AC Milan and Spalletti’s move to Inter, I reckon both sides will leap over Lazio in the near future. Even Atalanta and Torino could be a threat to the Laziale and doom them to eight place in a worst-case scenario (well, best-case for us). The derbies however are gonna be a tight affairs once more, as they can easily beat us 1-3 again if Fazio, Moreno and co don’t watch out. Plus, how will AS Roma fare in a derby without their icon Totti? For the first time in ages he won’t be there to influence the scoreline.
It’s pretty clear these neighbors won’t become good friends anytime soon, but with two young, promising Italian coaches at the sidelines, let’s hope for some good and memorable derbies.
Go get ‘em, Eusebio!