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Talking the Derby della Capitale with Lazio Expert Jerry Mancini

Calcio writer and podcast host Jerry Mancini gave us his thoughts on the Biancoceleste ahead of Friday’s Derby della Capitale.

AS Roma v SS Lazio - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Derby della Capitale is always a match that Romanisti and Laziali alike get amped up for. Unfortunately, this edition of one of Italy’s hottest rivalries will have a different feel with the Stadio Olimpico closed to fans. Add in the fact that the match is being played on a Friday afternoon in North America and this one certainly doesn’t feel like your typical battle in the capital.

Regardless, the match should still bring about plenty of passion on the pitch, over the airwaves, and between tifosi on social media. So, in order to prep us for Roma’s upcoming matchup against its inner-city rivals, I reached out to an amicable Laziale, Jerry Mancini.

This season has gone very differently in Serie A for Lazio compared to last year. What’s been the biggest reason for Lazio’s drop in the table after such a strong season in 2019/20?

Jerry Mancini: It has been a rollercoaster season for Lazio, who haven’t shown the same form from last year. Prior to the season stopping back in March due to Covid-19, Lazio were in great form. They were unbeaten in 21 straight matches and during that span also had a 12 game winning streak. When the season resumed in June, Lazio lost to Atalanta which ended their streak and they haven’t been the same since.

Although they managed to finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League last season, it hasn’t been quite the same for the Biancocelesti in 2020/21. Multiple factors have hindered their season this year which stems from injuries, illnesses and players arriving late from the transfer market.

SS Lazio v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

For a long stretch of the first quarter of the season, Lazio manager, Simone Inzaghi was missing players from the lineup due to Covid-19 or injuries.

In the latter part of the season, most of the players have been available to Inzaghi yet his reluctance to rotate his squad has been an issue. He’s been dependent on Immobile, Alberto, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Francesco Acerbi, to name a few, which has resulted in injuries or fatigue.

Inzaghi needs to show more trust in his bench and allow his players to rotate with a condensed schedule this season. Had he taken this approach, some performances may have had a different outcome.

Last year, the Biancoceleste’s lack of depth came back to haunt them in the summer once teams began playing twice a week. Over the summer Lazio made some additions, but some fans weren’t pleased with Lazio’s market considering they qualified for the Champions League. Do you think the team’s lack of depth was adequately addressed?

JM: While Lazio failed to sign David Silva this past summer, it was a modest transfer window for them. They signed Vedat Muriqi, who arrived from Fenerbache in the Super Lig and was their second most expensive signing in Lazio president Claudio Lotito’s era. He’s struggled this season to show the form from last year and that was due to his late arrival from the transfer market, having Covid-19, and being injured twice. He hasn’t been able to adapt but it’s still early so hopefully, he’s able to turn it around.

They did a decent job addressing the midfield as they signed Gonzalo Escalante and Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro and brought Andreas Periera over on loan. Escalante has stepped up this year in the absence of Leiva, who has struggled to stay fit. Arriving from SD Eibar, he has transitioned well and is showing good footwork and great composure in his ability to move the ball forward.

Akpa Akpro, who came over from Salernitana, has been a good addition. He’s really aggressive with his challenges and has a high work rate but too often he’s cautioned, which is a concern. Periera has been great but not used enough this year. When he’s appeared in matches he’s been able to provide a lift with his intensity, creativity on and off the ball and ability to create chances. He has a decent read for the game and could be a vital player.

Two areas that need to be addressed are centre back and left wing back. Wesley Hoedt came on loan from English Premier League side Southampton and has done a great job in his second stint with the club. When Acerbi, Felipe and Radu have been out this year, he has really provided stability at the backend. While Lazio would have preferred to have Marash Kumbulla, Hoedt has been a cost-effective and low-risk deal that has panned out.

Fares has been a disappointment as he has been hurt for most of the season and, when healthy, has looked poor. His crosses haven’t been great and struggles to track back to help the defense. This is disappointing as he arrived to replace Senad Lulic, which hasn’t been the case and has forced Adam Marusic play on the left side although he is a natural right-wing back.

Overall, Lazio were active in the transfer market. While all their signings have yet to pan out, hopefully in the second half of the season they prove their worth and help this club.

Which player has been the biggest pleasant surprise this season? Who has been the biggest disappointment?

JM: The biggest surprise this season has been Wesley Hoedt, who arrived on loan from Southampton for his second stint with Lazio. He’s been able to provide some depth and reassurance at centre-back. When Acerbi has been hurt, he has stepped up with his play as he’s been physical, made some good challenges and has a decent read of the game. It’s encouraging to see this as defense has been their main weakness.

SS Lazio v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

The biggest disappointment this season has been Lucas Leiva. Last year he was pivotal in the midfield for Lazio as he showed great composure and the team struggled when he was absent from the lineup. This year he has looked much slower and has lost a step in his game. Being overused last year may have had its toll on the Brazilian, but this year he’s struggled to stay fit and has been absent quite often. Not the player he once was, he seems to be on a decline and should probably be managed better in the foreseeable future.

What positions would you like Lazio to address in the January window?

JM: While we know very little gets accomplished in the January window, the immediate need would be left-wing back. Lulic hasn’t played since last February, while their new signing, Fares, has been unable to stay fit. Using Marusic has been good but could be concerning for Lazio. He started the season as back up to Lazzari as he’s a natural right-wing back, but has been used as an inverted wing back this season. If either player is to get hurt and Fares or Lulic are not yet ready to return, they will need to depend on Djavan Anderson, who has rarely seen playing time, which could be a concern.

Looking ahead to this week’s Derby della Capitale, what do you see as the keys to a Lazio victory?

JM: Lazio are starting to find good form at the right time as they have won two straight and are unbeaten in their last three games. They will have plenty of confidence and momentum heading into this match. It will need to start from the backend as they have earned just four clean sheets this season in all competitions and defense has been a concern. Far too often they have gifted teams chances to score and they have taken advantage.

Luis Alberto and Ciro Immobile of SS Lazio in action during... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/LightRocket via Getty Images

They’ll need to be clinical with their chances and this starts with their talisman, Immobile. He has stepped up for Lazio this season as he’s scored 11 goals in Serie A and some have been game winners. They will need to limit Roma’s possession and take control of the midfield. When Milinkovic-Savic and Alberto have been on their game the midfield has been hard to break down. They will need the three to be mentally prepared and ready as they will be vital if Lazio are to win.

I’d imagine the Coppa Italia victory stands out as your top derby memory, but do any others stand out?

JM: That’s a tough one. I’ll go with a recent derby in March 2019. Danilo Cataldi scored the final goal in a 3-0 victory over Roma. It was a special moment as Cataldi is a homegrown player who was born in Rome. I thought this was a very nice moment for him and the club.

Also, back in 2006, Cristian Ledesma had a rocket shot to open the score and led Lazio to a 3-0 win as well. He hit the target from a far distance and caught many by surprise.

Finally, give us a match prediction?

JM: Lazio 2-2 Roma

Thanks again to Jerry for providing us some great insight on the Biancceleste ahead of Friday’s showdown. Be sure to give Jerry a follow on Twitter to check out his work for World Football Index and The Laziali, as well as, his podcast Calcio Connection that he co-hosts with Alex Donno.

On the most recent epsiode, I joined the duo to discuss Roma’s draw with Inter and to look ahead to Friday’s match. Also, keep an eye out for our Across the Romaverse derby preview when Jerry joins me to break down Friday’s big match.