One simply never knows what to expect when the city of Rome splits in half for 90 minutes. We’ve seen taut, scoreless draws and open ended free for alls, but no matter how the match plays out, the tension and the passion are unique to the Eternal City; it sounds trite to say it, but there is value, in and of itself and irrespective of what’s going on in the league, to winning a derby. Plus, if you’re a fan of bloodsports, the Derby della Capitale seldom disappoints.
However, if you found yourself watching this match and wondering where that kill or be killed mentality was, I’ll turn you over to a former colleague of mine:
Trying to figure out why this Rome Derby is less ugly than those in recent years and realized it's because Radu isn't on the pitch.— Kirsten Schlewitz (@kdschlewitz) September 29, 2018
He really is a detestable piece of shit, isn’t he? Radu was actually sent off in the most recent derby, drawing a second yellow in the 80th minute last spring, and this derby was conspicuously lacking in dirty tricks without him.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand, the match.
Eusebio Di Francesco decided to bottle that midweek magic and bring back the 4-2-3-1 that was so successful against Frosinone, making a couple small changes in the actual personnel. With the Patrik Schick midweek experiment going nowhere, EDF turned back to Edin Dzeko to lead the line, while Alessandro Florenzi slotted in at right wing in place of Cengiz Ünder.
Outside of that, it was business as usual for Roma. While they weren’t able to make a dent in the back of the net, Roma held serve for the first dozen minutes or so of this match, with Stephan El Shaarawy doing the damage up front, and Daniele De Rossi and (gasp) Davide Santon holding the line at the back, making several key blocks and generally denying Lazio any effective space in the final third.
However, as they so often do, the match ebbed and flowed in the middle sections, with Lazio making runs after the quarter hour mark, nearly grabbing the lead thanks to an impressive Ciro Immobile volley, but, once again, Roma’s backline was there to snuff it out. Immobile would threaten again, narrowly, and I mean narrowly, missing a tight angled shot.
With Roma holding firm at the back, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was another kick and run exhibition, but EDF’s side did manage some pretty impressive, and, well, pretty football in the first 45 minutes. Alessandro Florenzi and El Shaarawy each made some impressive, cutting runs towards Strakosha’s box, with El Shaarawy nearly getting on the end of a De Rossi cross, only to be foiled by an in between hop. Florenzi, while his runs were impressive, actually created the half’s best scoring chance when he threaded a sublime ball through the middle to Pastore, who was simply too hobbled to latch onto it.
After ceding the momentum in the middle part of the first half, Roma really came to life (ironically) when Pastore was pulled off due to injury, with the local boy, Lorenzo Pellegrini, coming on in his stead. While Pellegrini can’t match Pastore’s touch and feel for attacking football, he was doing the dirty work El Flaco ignored in the first half, tracking back and denying his opposite number the time and space to make plays.
While that’s all well and good, Pellegrini made his true mark just before the halftime whistle.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 45th Minute (Roma 1, Lazio 0)
Pellegrini found himself in the right place at the right time, throttle down the loose ball, getting twisted, yet somehow having the presence of mind to backheel it home, giving Roma a much needed lead. It was quite fitting that a Roman finally broke the deadlock, and with a Francesco Totti-esque backheel at that.
It wasn’t a perfect first half, but Roma capitalized when it mattered most, giving them a much needed lift as they headed into the locker room.
Roma opened up the second frame with no changes, while Lazio made a double swap just before the hour mark. Despite all that, the opening moments of the second half pretty much mirrored the first: Roma took control but were unable to double their lead, opening the door slightly for Lazio to make their own run at Robin Olsen.
However, after 15 minutes or so, the match held firm at 1-0 Roma thanks to the continued efforts of Santon, De Rossi, Federico Fazio and Aleksandar Kolarov, each of whom had seemingly mastered positioning on this evening, giving Lazio little in the way of freedom to maneuver.
Roma would shit the bed some ten minutes later, when Fazio treated the ball like Lenny treats Mice, carelessly turning the ball over to Ciro Immobile some 20 yards away from Olsen.
Ciro Immobile: 67th Minute (Roma 1, Lazio 1)
From there, Immobile unleashed hell, just absolutely burying the ball in the net. It was your classic Roma fuck up; everything was going great, Roma looked set to ride out this one-niler only to be done in by a lapse in judgement. My old baseball coach was fond of saying he could tolerate physical errors, but mental ones were practically cardinal sins; that was Fazio in this instance.
However, in a testament to how much this match means, Roma kept pressing and almost immediately put themselves in prime position to score. With Lorenzo Pellegrini charging through the middle, the Lazio defense, perhaps in haste but who cares, tripped him up on that little circle thingy on top of the 18 (what the hell is that called anyway?), and while he was a few centimeters short of earning a PK, Pellegrini’s run did lead to this...
Aleksandar Kolarov: 71st Minute (Roma 2, Lazio 1)
KOLAROV WHAT A FREE KICK!pic.twitter.com/U32OyLks06— ItalianFootballTV (@IFTVofficial) September 29, 2018
I mean, there’s no explanation necessary, Kolarov just fucking buried it. Full stop.
Following that bit of heroics from Kolarov, EDF opted to pull off De Rossi, presumably to rest him for the Champions League, bringing on Bryan Cristante to ice the lead. Some ten minutes later, EDF would swap Juan Jesus for Florenzi, effectively shifting to a 3-5-2.
However, a few minutes later, Federico Fazio said to hell with your defensive shape, putting Roma up 3-1.
Federico Fazio: 86th Minute (Roma 3, Lazio 1)
Once again, Lorenzo Pellegrini was the man of the moment, serving this one up on a platter for Captain Caveman, who atoned for his earlier sin by lashing his beautiful cranium on this one, putting the match beyond all doubt.
And that was really about it, the remaining ten minutes or so were really academic.
This was EXACTLY what Roma needed and exactly when they needed it. Waxing Frosinone was great, but that can easily be dismissed because it was, well, Frosinone. However, by beating Lazio, who had won four on the trot, so soundly, and doing so with tactical innovations, urgency and efficiency, Roma showed what they’re truly capable of; with De Rossi and Nzonzi patrolling the midfield, and with Santon, Manolas and, yes, even Fazio sweeping things up behind them, Lazio really never stood a chance today. Outside of a few Immobile chances and a couple long distance efforts from SMS, they never really threatened Olsen’s area.
As the old saying goes, defense wins championships, and while that may be true to an extent, Roma’s attack achieved something quite odd this afternoon. Despite losing the possession battle and attempting some 100 fewer passes, Roma peppered Lazio with 17 shots (though they gave up 16), completed close to 80% of their passes and pulled off 11 successful dribbles. And, okay, it wasn’t their most dominant performance under Di Francesco, but the numbers point towards one thing: Roma capitalized and Lazio didn’t.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Lorenzo Pellegrini, who was simply sensational after coming on for Pastore late in the first half. Not only did he score the matches first goal, but it was involved, directly and indirectly, in Roma’s second and third goals. In just over an hour of action, Pellegrini had two shots on target, one key pass, two dribbles, and even chipped in two tackles. Perhaps he should play in a more advanced role all the time, eh?
We’ll leave it at that, but needless to say, this is a step in the right direction and we can only hope whatever magic this formation is conjuring carries forward into the fall. Roma jump back into action on Tuesday when they welcome Viktoria Plzen back to the Olimpico for Matchday Two of the Champions League.