I'm sure we've all been there...You have a first date or a big job interview, your nerves are frayed, you can't concentrate on anything else and you can barely eat, but somehow you press on, preparing like it's any other day. And then the time arrives. Your suit is pressed as crisp as the day you bought it, your breath is just-out-of-the-dentist fresh and your hair has that perfect sheen, treading that perfect line between casual and trying to hard, and then it happens.
Just as you're about to walk out the door, you feel that familiar oh-fuck-not-now gurgle in the deepest recesses of your GI tract. Strap yourself in and make sure you bring your phone (you'll be there a while) because your day is about to be ruined; you've got the runs, my friend.
Or, as Roma so eloquently put it moments before the Derby della Capitale, "intestinal issues”, a problem that befell Kostas Manolas shortly before kickoff, forcing Eusebio Di Francesco to make a last minute change to his lineup. And while we can't confirm it, EDF was rumored to opine "A Pepto-Bismol, a Pepto-Bismol! My Kingdom for a Pepto-Bismol!"
Without Manolas, EDF was forced into a Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus central pairing, but outside of that, it was business as usual, and better than usual if you're EDF. With a full complement of attackers at his disposal, Di Francesco was able to switch back to his preferred 4-3-3 formation, with Daniele De Rossi, Bryan Cristante and Lorenzo Pellegrini in the midfield and Edin Dzeko, Stephan El Shaarawy and Nicolo Zaniolo up top.
So, at least on paper, Roma looked prepared to soldier on without Manolas, and while they looked atrocious in the early moments of the match, Lazio wasn't exactly redefining the word football, so the Giallorossi looked set to weather the storm, until that patchwork back line was exposed for what it was—slow, dreadfully and woefully slow.
Felipe Caicedo: 12th Minute (Lazio 1, Roma 0)
As has been the case so many times this season, this goal stemmed from a complete breakdown of Roma's defense, and while Juan Jesus looked like the culpable party, we can't say that Fazio or Robin Olsen were free from blame either. While it looks like Jesus was made a fool, he was really attempting to defend two players simultaneously, or at least attempting to deny a passing lane, and why was that? Well, because Federico Fazio was nowhere to be seen, and don't even get me started on Robin Olsen—I like him well enough, but his lack of aggression has cost Roma before, and while he wasn’t the main culprit here, he didn't look terribly confident coming off the line.
This horror show was halted for one beautiful moment in the 13th minute, however, as both sides paused play while the entire stadium stood and cheered in remembrance of Davide Astori on the one-year anniversary of his death. Bringing the fiercest derby into the country to a standstill, less than a minute after Lazio busted it open, speaks volumes about the love, admiration and affection Italians have for Astori—it was a brilliant tribute.
For Roma, the ensuing 30 minutes of football were as dreadful a spell as we've seen all season long. Through the first 45 minutes of play, Roma were fresh out of ideas, managing only two attempts on goal, one of which was a blocked attempt from Pellegrini from 20+ yards out.
The defense was a step too slow, the midfield lacked even a scintilla of creativity and what attempts they did have in Lazio's final third were easily thwarted. Surely, EDF had to make a change, tactical or otherwise, to turn this thing around.
While Di Francesco didn't make any immediate changes to start the second half, Roma were certainly more active in the final third, equaling their first half offensive output by the 49th minute. And while they didn’t truly threaten Strakosha during that spurt, it was a welcomed signal of intent after a dreary first half.
As the match approached the hour mark, Roma's fresh approach slowly started to take root, as Stephan El Shaarawy and Zaniolo each made some noise in Strakosha's area. However, with Zaniolo being bruised and battered through the first 60 minutes, Diego Perotti took his place shortly after the hour mark. It wasn't an easy substitution—Zaniolo was, once again, Roma's most dangerous player—but with a critical trip to the Dragao looming this week, it made a certain amount of sense.
EDF followed that up with another shocking substitution...Javier Pastore! I shit you not, El Flaco actually found his way onto the pitch, coming on for De Rossi in the 65th minute. With Cristante and Pellegrini still in the match, this was more a swap of personnel than a true tactical upheaval, but Pastore slotted centrally behind Dzeko with Pellegrini moving out wide, so there were some subtle changes to the pace and direction of play.
The changes actually seemed to have an impact too, at least in terms of Roma retaining possession in the final third. Around the 70 minute mark or so, Roma managed a quick flurry of attempts, with Alessandro Florenzi pressing Strakosha into a leaping save, which was quickly followed up by successive corner attempts, one of which Pellegrini narrowly missed putting past Strakosha at the far post. Upon a second viewing, it almost looked like Pellegrini and Pastore each got a piece of it, which may have altered the attempt.
All that good faith amounted to jack shit moments later when Fazio was absolutely burned by Joaquin Correa—with his countryman barreling towards Olsen, Fazio, a step or two behind Correa, clipped his heels, drawing a yellow and conceding a penalty in the process. Robin Olsen managed to get a piece of it, but Ciro Immobile's penalty attempt was just too quick and too powerful to be stopped.
Di Francesco would counter with another attacking substitution—Patrik Schick for El Shaarawy—but it mattered little; Roma was simply too far gone by that point.
It was a listless end to a completely listless performance from Roma. Listless from Roma that is—Lazio struck another one in the 89th minute as Danilo Cataldi alligator-armed Olsen in the dying moments of regular time.
We can deconstruct this one any number of ways—was it a defensive collapse or a complete disappearing act from the attack? Neither? Both? A curse of some sorts? The divine hand of karma?
Whatever it was, this was an ugly display. From front to back and side to side, Roma were pathetic this evening, and derby or no derby, this was a match they needed to win. With Inter dropping points earlier in the weekend, Roma had an opportunity to pull level with Inter on 47 points.
But, thanks to this bed wetting performance, Roma will finish the weekend in fifth place; not a disaster per se (which, I know, my words prior to this don't match) but it was a tremendous opportunity lost, not to mention an ugly way to lose a derby.
At this point you have to pip AC Milan for third place, meaning the fight for fourth will likely fall to whichever club, Roma or Inter, sucks less down the stretch. With Roma's shambolic defense and Inter's Icardi problem and Spalletti's patented second half swoon in full swing, this race to the bottom could be quite entertaining.