With both capital clubs needing full points to increase and/or solidify their spots in the top four, there was a greater sense of urgency in this particularly Derby della Capitale. With Cagliari taking points off Inter Milan earlier in the day, a Lazio victory would have put them level on 48 points with Antonio Conte's club, while Roma were chasing three points to maintain their cushion over fifth place Atalanta, who hung up a 7-0 scoreline on Torino yesterday.
The early goings in this match were standard derby fare, as both sides were cautiously feeling out the match, poking and prodding each other in hopes of discovering their respective tactics of the day.
Through the first 15 to 20 minutes, Roma seemed intent on exploiting the age and general slowness of Stefan Radu and Senad Lulic on Lazio's left flank, working the ball through Cengiz Ünder repeatedly in the first half. With 36 touches in the first 45 minutes, Ünder was earning his money, and while he was unable to find a breakthrough early on, he was having his way with the 33-year-old Radu and 34-year-old Lulic.
Roma would find a break through on the opposite side of the pitch thanks to Amadou Diawara's fill-in, Bryan Cristante, who played Edin Dzeko into the box with a superb ball off the left flank.
Edin Dzeko: 26th Minute (Roma 1, Lazio)
Just absolutely fantastic technique here from Dzeko as he uses his size to shield off Strakosha and two Lazio defenders, while the header was perfection, almost like a tennis-style drop shot; he just dinked it over the oncoming defenders, giving it the perfect arch to drop into the back of the net. And what a ball from Cristante. Just sheer perfection from start to finish.
Roma very nearly doubled their lead within the next breath, as the Giallorossi caught Lazio napping and pulled off a mini fast break off the ensuing kickoff. With a numerical advantage, Dzeko drove the ball through the middle before laying it off to Ünder on the right. Cengiz then took a touch but couldn't get enough bend on the ball, making for an easy save/parry for Strakosha, whose rebound fell right into the hands of Edin Dzeko, but with an incredibly tight, almost 180 degree angle, he was unable to find a second goal.
But, man, the excitement in the air kicked up several notches after this frantic three minute stretch. Roma were poking and prodding their way through the match to this point, but Dzeko's goal electrified the eleven men on the pitch and the thousands in the stands.
The crowd was rocking and Roma were riding high and then...Roma happened. It was such a strange turn of events, I can't even re-describe, so here was what we caught in the heat of the moment.
That ball looked like it was going to fall out of bounds anyway. Seems like Lopez thought it was out and was just having a laugh by punching it, then Smalling comes down, chaos ensues, and Lazio levels.— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) January 26, 2020
I'd liken it to when an NBA player just attempts a crazy shot/layup after the whistle blows just for fun, only in this instance the play wasn't dead. I have no idea what exactly Lopez was thinking or thought was going on, but that was one of the strangest sequences you'll ever see from a keeper.
See for yourself
Francesco Acerbi: 34th Minute (Roma 1, Lazio 1)
| Serie A— QUE FINTA! (@QFinta1) January 26, 2020
Gol confuso da Lazio
Roma 1 x 1 Lazio
⚽️ Francesco Acerbi (34’) pic.twitter.com/8qhCksWJKw
Very strange indeed. There was very little chance this match would hold at 1-0, but, man, that was a horrific gaffe from Lopez, even if there was a slight obstruction from the Lazio defender at the near post.
Roma would come close to grabbing lead once more as Lorenzo Pellegrini struck the post in the 44th minute, but the first half closed with both sides level at one goal apiece.
The second half of this match started off in typical Italian fashion, with a controversial penalty/no penalty call.
Sensational series from Under. First the cheeky behind the back/rabona style settle, cuts in and plays a beautiful through ball towards Kluivert, who was taken down by Patric.— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) January 26, 2020
Under is MOTM so far.
After Ünder's show of skill, it appeared as though Kluivert was taken down on his corresponding run. Initially, match official Gianpaolo Calvarese awarded a penalty but was seen hesitating, listening to assistant's voices in his ear piece before consulting the VAR monitor itself. Upon further review, Calvarese judged that Patric's collision was incidental; he was back tracking following another defender and inadvertently got in Kluivert's path.
It was an incredibly tough call as there was clear and obvious contact, contact that definitively impeded Kluivert's path towards the ball, but Calavarese at least used VAR appropriately, let's give him that much—but that sure looked like a PK.
Despite that turn of fortune, Roma remained in control of this match, continuing to work the ball through Ünder down the right, while also receiving some nice forward runs and service from Davide Santon and Leonardo Spinazzola at the full-back spots.
Dzeko would have decent crack at Strakosha in the 69th minute, but the ball was just a hair too far from Dzeko resulting in more of a toe poke then a genuine lashing shot. With his earlier error seemingly fresh in his memory, Strakosha came at the ball with all his might, using his face rather than his hands to clear the danger.
Roma, through Ünder again, found some space in the 81st minute with the young Turk calling his own number this time, cutting in from the right and driving to the center of goal, forcing a Strakosha save, which once again yielded a rebound to Dzeko, which once again was turned away.
Fonseca would make his first sub of the game in the 81st minute, swapping out Kluivert for Diego Perotti. He would follow that up rather quickly, bringing on Aleksandar Kolarov for Santon, coincidentally enough just in time to take a free kick. Shrewd move by Fonseca, even if the Lazio wall did its job.
Fonseca would make final change, Veretout off for Javier Pastore, with an eye on grabbing a last ditch winner, but the whistle blew with neither side really finding a final chance.
In yesterday's preview we preached the need for Roma to be direct and aggressive, to get space out wide, and to get the full-backs involved in the attack. Check, check and check. Fonseca's tactics were 100% correct today, exploiting Lazio's most glaring weakness—their inability to handle Ünder on the right flank—while his switch to a Davide Santon and Leonardo Spinazzola full-back pairing worked like a dream.
Despite the sharing of points, this was an uplifting performance from Roma as they received positive performances from nearly everyone, apart from Pau Lopez in that one minute. Chris Smalling and Gianluca Mancini completely removed Immobile from the match, Pellegrini, Ünder and even Jordan Vereout were creating shot chances all afternoon, while Santon looked like a man reborn.
In the end, it was a shame Roma didn't earn more from this match because they certainly deserved it, but as it stands right now their lead over fifth place Atalanta has shrunk to one point. So while there are a lot of feel goods from this match, Roma are really under the gun now.
Roma travel to Sassulo next Saturday.
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