In the first piece of this mini-series, bren elegantly painted the picture of Roma’s current situation in terms of qualifying for the Champions League. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I am direct quoting his Milan piece in the event that you didn’t read it. If you haven’t you can find it here. So, if you have, feel free to skip the block quote. We’ll continue by taking a look at city rivals Lazio.
It’s hard to understate just exactly how important it is for Roma to qualify for the Champions League. Without the ability to print their own money via a gleaming, club controlled modern stadium, not to mention a history of debt that may or may not be paid off, Roma relies on that Champions League cash to keep the club in the upper reaches of the table; without those assurances, Roma’s supermarket would be bursting at the seams every summer.
For much of the season, it seemed like Roma would struggle to even qualify for next season’s Europa League, to say nothing of it’s more esteemed colleague, the champioonnnsss. However, thanks to a pre-holiday break surge in which they won three out of four matches, Eusebio Di Francesco has managed to drag his beleaguered squad all the way back up to sixth place, two points behind their bitter city rival, and current holders of fourth place, SS Lazio.
With a nine point gap at the top of the table, Juventus has their latest title all but wrapped up, but the fight for fourth place figures to be slug fest between Roma, Lazio and AC Milan at least, with Sampdoria, Atalanta, Torino and Fiorentina each within six points of fourth place; misery may love company, but in Serie A this season mediocrity has no shortage of friend requests.
Roma will face each of those squads in the second half of course, but which ones present the biggest challenge to the Giallorossi’s quest for fourth place?
Position: Fourth place (32 points)
Form: 9 points over their last six matches
Goal Differential: +7
Derby della Capitale matches elicit all kinds of emotions from fans on both sides of the Olimpico. Victories bring forth feelings of pride and joy, while defeats can bring about anger and shame. These feelings are only amplified when the stakes are raised above the usual 3 points and bragging rights of a derby match.
Unless you’ve found a way to erase it from your memory bank, we all remember that painful 2013 Coppa Italia final loss at the hands of the Biancoceleste. The upcoming March derby match may not have the same immediate impact of lifting a trophy. However, with Roma again looking to be locked into a three team race with Lazio for a Champions League place, March’s derby could go a long way in seeing Roma achieve its goal of a top 4 finish.
In the first derby match of the season, Roma looked to have righted its season with a 3-1 victory highlighted by Lorenzo Pellegrini’s lovely back heel goal. Of course, Roma’s season didn’t follow the upward trajectory that we hoped a derby victory would’ve sparked. However, Lazio’s season has followed much the same path as Roma’s, in terms of results, since the late September match; Lazio has been just one point better than Roma since then.
Last season, Lazio outperformed expectations and battled it out with Roma and Inter until the last weeks of the season for a Champions League spot. Of course, Roma were able to finish third behind one of the stoutest defenses in the league (28 goals against). Meanwhile, Lazio lost out to Inter on the last match day for fourth, despite boasting the leagues top attack (89 goals scored).
This season, both teams have seemingly lost the identity that made them each so successful in 2017-18. Lazio’s scoring from 17-18 was always going to be nearly impossible to match, when it outperformed its xG by an incredible 22.49. However, they have scored only 28 goals so far this term, which is 5.68 less blew the team’s xG. Thus, the finishing has been less than clinical for a team that made opponents pay so often just a year ago.
On the other side of the ball, we are all well aware of Roma’s issues along the back this season, as they’ve already given up 24 goals. Conversely, despite losing Stefan de Vrij to Inter, Lazio has improved it’s defense slightly this term and have outperformed the Giallorossi. Lazio has given up 21 goals this season, which is almost on point with it’s xGA of 20.22. Despite it’s improvements, Lazio is still liable for some clunkers in the back having given up 3 each to Roma and Inter, and 4 to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League.
Fourth Place Fear Factor: 6 out of 10
The main difference between Lazio and Roma this season, despite their nearly identical records is this: Lazio have won the games they are supposed to win, while Roma have lost games they are supposed to have won. What I mean by this is Lazio’s five losses have come against teams either ahead of them (Juve, Napoli, Inter) or slightly below them in the table (Roma, Atalanta). Also, Lazio has only dropped points against one relegation fighting team; a 1-1 draw with Chievo.
Meanwhile, of Roma’s five losses only Juve and Milan have better records, and Bologna, SPAL, and Udinese are all hovering around the relegation zone. Roma also has regrettable draws against Cagliari and Chievo. That’s 13 dropped points against bottom half teams. With this in mind, fixing its issues against smaller sides should give the Giallorossi an edge in the race for fourth with Lazio and everyone else for that matter. Roma seem to perform down to its competition, whereas Lazio performs about as you would expect, in terms of results.
Ciro Immobile remains one of Serie A’s most lethal scorers and is on pace for his third straight 20 goal campaign. Compared to last year though, the secondary scoring hasn’t quite been there for the Biancoceleste; namely from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto. Lazio becomes a bit scarier of a proposition if Milinkovic-Savic can regain the scoring form that made him one of Europe’s most sought after midfielders this summer. The big Serb scored 12 times, which was nearly double his xG. SMS hasn’t been nearly as good this season with just three goals. Couple that with Alberto’s drop from 11 goals to one and you can begin to see why Lazio aren’t lighting up the scoresheet this season.
If the race comes down to the two Capital clubs, then it might come down to who can improve more in the area that sparked last season’s campaigns. If Roma can improve it’s leaky backline while maintaining its scoring, then you’d expect better results against bottom feeders and an advantage in the race for fourth. However, if it can’t and Lazio’s aforementioned midfielders can find last season’s scoring boots, while maintaining its improved defensive record then Roma could be in trouble.