Derby matches don't really need added juice, but with both Roma and Lazio fighting separate, slightly different but concurrent battles in the top four, Sunday's Derby della Capitale, the 162nd rendition, has added importance for both capital clubs. For Lazio, a win (and some help from Cagliari against Inter) would vault the Biancocelesti into second place with a game in hand, while Roma will need a positive result to stay ahead of Atalanta in fourth place.
It's still somewhat early days in Serie A, but aside from the usual bragging rights, both Roman clubs have a great deal on the line in this derby, which makes Roma's latest rash of injuries sting even more.
However, before we delve into that again, a quick trip down memory lane.
September 1, 2019: Lazio 1, Roma 1
When you follow the league as closely as most of us do, after a certain amount of time the matches tend to bleed into one another. Barring some miraculous goals or egregious officiating calls, 90% of football matches are lost to the sands of time. Case in point: when I queued this match up my first thought was “oh that's right, I remember this match...the posts!”
This was a busy match for the woodwork at the Olimpico as it's dual tenants hit the posts a combined six times, turning a wild potentially five or six goal affair into a taut one-one draw, with goals from Aleksandar Kolarov, who, god bless him, still celebrated like a mad man (by his standards) against his former club, and Luis Alberto who leveled for Lazio early in the second half.
It was the second derby draw in the past four contests, an outcome neither side probably wants to see tomorrow.
Not Your Average Lazio
Led by Ciro Immobile's 23 goals and sporting the league's best goal differential, this might be the best Lazio side we've seen since their title winning squad nearly 20 years ago. Prior to their Coppa Italia defeat to Napoli last week, Lazio ripped off six-straight victories in all competitions, but dial things back to October and Lazio's run this season looks absolutely astounding.
Roma vs. Lazio: January 26th. 18:00 CET/12:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Since their loss to Celtic in the Europa League on October 24th, Lazio have been on an absolute tear, winning 14 of 17 matches in all competitions, including their still active 11 match winning streak in Serie A.
Lazio have scored the second most goals in the league while conceding the second fewest and boast the leading goal scorer (Immobile) and leading assist maker (Luis Alberto) in the league. Put simply: this team is fucking stacked.
Not exactly what a Roma team reeling from the injury bug wants to see. In addition to the usual cast of injured characters, the Giallorossi added their budding all world midfielder Amadou Diawara, whose bag of skills and ability to disrupt an attack would have been essential to stopping this Lazio machine.
We ran through the ins and outs of life without Diawara yesterday, but given the short turnaround, chances are Fonseca opts for a Jordan Veretout and Bryan Cristante pairing in the double pivot. It's not the worst idea, but one can't help but wonder if Cristante would be exposed by Immobile, Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who have made mincemeat of any and all comers this season.
Fonseca's first test without Diawara likely won't give us much indication of his longer term plans to survive without the Guinean midfielder, but Roma's chances for victory tomorrow rest at the other end of the pitch. Roma need goals, plain and simple.
While the stat sheets show six goals over their past three matches, included in that half-dozen strikes are a penalty and two own-goals. We've certainly seen more arid stretches from Roma's attack, but Fonseca Football is sputtering at the moment, struggling to find a consistent source of quality shots and goals from the run of play.
Dzeko returning to the lineup will help in that regard, but his presence alone isn't enough to grease Roma's wheels. Roma need to be aggressive deep in Lazio territory, they need Ünder and likely Justin Kluivert to stretch and probe the edges of the final third, providing Lorenzo Pellegrini seams through which he can play that final ball.
None of this is earth shattering of course, but when Roma falters it's usually down to complacency (forced or otherwise) and imprecision in the final third. With all but two of his normal starting eleven at his disposal, Paulo Fonseca still has the necessary tools to foment an upset at the Olimpico tomorrow.