Fresh off a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Ludogorets in the Europa League late last week, one that pushed the Giallorossi through to the knockout round, Roma were riding high as they prepped for today's derby against Lazio. With Roma and Lazio trading their usual pre-derby barbs, the Stadio Olimpico (and the city of Rome itself) was bursting at the seams ahead of today's Derby della Capitale, the 167th official meeting between Rome's bitter rivals; one that would give the victor an upper hand in the top four.
Watching his side struggling in the run of play lately, José Mourinho didn't pull any punches today, trotting out Lorenzo Pellegrini, Tammy Abraham, and Thursday's hero Nicolo Zaniolo from the jump. Roger Ibañez, Chris Smalling, and Gianluca Mancini reprised their usual roles in defense, with Nicola Zalewski and Rick Karsdorp playing out wide, while Bryan Cristante and Mady Camar manned the midfield.
With the smoke still hanging in the air, Roma made their first attacking move of the match after Mady Camara intercepted the ball deep in Lazio territory. With Tammy straight ahead of him and Pellegrini to his side, Camara tried to thread a ball to Abraham in the box, only to see the Lazio defense intervene at the last moment—no result, but a bright start for a club that's struggled in the final third in recent weeks.
Roma's next look at goal saw Pellegrini pick out Zaniolo as he made a diagonal run toward the middle of the 18-yard box. The pass was a tad behind, but Zaniolo nevertheless managed a decent turn and fire, pushing the shot wide of the right post.
With Lazio pushing forward in the 15th minute, Roma tempted fate as Smalling committed an inadvertent handball off an awkward bounce, hitting the ball with his lower forearm. Despite pleas from Luis Alberto, the referees didn't consult VAR, with the TV cameras showing the incident occurred just outside the box anyway—bullet dodged.
The ensuing 10 minutes saw both clubs battle for possession in midfield, with neither side able to make much noise in the attacking third. Lazio had a clean look in the 21st minute when Pedro found space in the area, only to see his shot blocked by Mancini's outstretched leg.
But Roma's luck was about to run out...
Felipe Anderson: 29th Minute (Roma 0, Lazio 1)
Roger Ibañez gift wraps a goal for Felipe Anderson— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 6, 2022
Lazio take the lead in the Derby della Capitale pic.twitter.com/Zwqpu6T79P
With Roger Ibanez attempting to dribble the ball out of his box, Pedro picked his pocket, dispossessing his former teammate and setting up Felipe Anderson with a gimme goal. With Patricio hung out to dry by Ibañez, this was a no-doubter for Anderson, who beat Patricio with ease. This was a horrific error from Ibañez, who had ample time to play the ball upfield but chose to dribble his way out of danger.
Zaniolo nearly drew level moments later when he sent an arching left-footer off the crossbar, missing a goal by a matter of inches. Despite that instant reaction, Roma didn't exactly put the fear of God in the Lazio backline in the latter stages of the first half, mustering only three shots after Ibañez's costly error.
Chasing a one-goal deficit, Mourinho made a slight change to start the second half, bringing on Zeki Celik in place of Gianluca Mancini, giving Roma more of a traditional back-four look.
Roma's first chance of the second half came via the set piece. With Pellegrini whipping a corner kick to the back right post, Chris Smalling had a chance, albeit from a tight angle, to level the match but couldn't squeeze the ball inside the post. Making matters worse for Roma, Pellegrini immediately pulled up, clutching his right hamstring.
Fortunately for the Giallorossi, the man (or kid) taking his place was the hero of the moment: Cristian Volpato. After scoring a goal and setting up another in Roma's 3-1 win over Verona on Halloween, the 18-year-old Aussie is perhaps the most popular player in Rome at the moment.
With his side struggling and in dire need of a shot in the arm, Mourinho went to the bench in the 63rd minute, swapping out the ineffective Karsdorp for Stephan El Shaarawy. Roma managed a rather strange look at goal several minutes later when Zaniolo, slaloming his way through the left channel, ran onto a ball in the box, but so did several other Roma and Lazio players, resulting in a pile of three or four players desperately lashing at the ball on the goal line. In the end, Provedel poked the ball away from Zaniolo, and Roma wasn't able to capitalize on the chaos.
Roma threw their hat back into the ring in the 70th minute, winning two successive corners, but without Pellegrini's precise deliveries, neither chance came close. Mourinho would respond with his final two substitutions, bringing on Nemanja Matic and Andrea Belotti in place of Camara and Zalewski, respectively.
With time winding down, Roma was chasing a late equalizer, pushing nearly everyone forward in a desperate attempt to find a shred of space in the area. But whether it was Zaniolo barreling his way through multiple defenders or El Shaarawy skittering around the edges, the Giallorossi couldn't find a breakthrough.
Roma created a pair of semi-chances late in the match, as they finally provided some service to Abraham in the box. While he did well to shield the ball from the defender and make his turn toward the goal, the ball ran away from Abraham in the process, giving Provedel enough time to come off his line and smother the attempt.
Moments later, Volpato found space down the right flank and had his way with the defense as he danced towards the near post. However, in his attempt to shuffle the ball off his left foot to Zaniolo, he flubbed the pass and threw his hands up in frustration as the ball died on the grass.
Thanks to a series of setpieces, injuries, and a few skirmishes on and off the pitch, the officials tacked on eight minutes of stoppage time, giving the Giallorossi a faint glimmer of hope.
In the end, that's all it was: a glimmer. Despite nearly 10 minutes being tacked onto this match, Roma failed to create any genuine chances before the final whistle.
Nothing new to report here, unfortunately. For the umpteenth time this season, we watched as Roma struggled to maintain a semblance of fluidity in the attacking phases, made worse once Pellegrini left the game with a hamstring pull. In nearly 100 minutes of football, Mourinho's men managed only eight shots, only two of which were on target, and seemed content to play long balls over the top rather than generate any genuine, ground-based chances in the final third.
In some ways, this match typified Roma in 2022; just pure, unmitigated frustration. Without Paulo Dybala pulling the strings (and finishing the chances), Roma has looked lost, and with his return uncertain, we have two more matches to slog through before the league breaks for the World Cup after next weekend.
Roma faces Sassuolo on the road on Wednesday.