The Derby della Capitale. As a Romanista (or Laziale for that matter) there’s nothing like it. The derby consumes the entire city twice annually as neighbor hopes for bragging rights against neighbor. And as Jose Mourinho put it in his pre-match presser today, it’s all about the fans.
“In the derby, it’s not about focusing on yourself, whether that is as a coach, or a player. It’s about playing for the others - it’s about playing for the fans.”
And there will be plenty at stake besides bragging rights as Roma enters this match just a point behind Lazio on the table. With both teams’ Champions League hopes all but dashed, a fifth-place finish and Europa League qualification becomes the primary objective.
With Covid restrictions being peeled back once again on the peninsula, there should be plenty of fans in the stands to create one of the best atmospheres in all of calcio for this pivotal tilt. The Stadio Olimpico should provide a raucous atmosphere in what will be Roma’s “home” meeting of this season’s derbies. That’s something Roma’s manager is looking forward to:
Mourinho: "The derby is always better with all the fans there. We've had a couple without a full crowd but tomorrow it will be basically [full].— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) March 19, 2022
"A derby without the fans isn't really a derby. So, for that reason, it's going to be an even better occasion."#ASRoma #RomaLazio pic.twitter.com/muFjl1JpXk
And “home” derbies have proven to be an advantage for the Giallorossi in recent seasons. In fact, the Giallorossi are unbeaten in their last four home derbies dating back to the 2016-2017 season. And perhaps the most impressive stat entering this one is that Roma hasn’t lost consecutive derbies to Lazio since 2012; something they’ll be looking to avoid after their Matchday 6 meeting.
Roma also enters this matchday unbeaten in its last eight league fixtures (4W-4D). It hasn’t always been pretty, but for Mourinho, not losing—and more importantly winning—is more important than aesthetics. And he’ll be looking for all three points on Sunday.
September 26, 2021: Lazio 3, Roma 2
Speaking of the last meeting, Lazio ran out 3-2 winners in what was a high-flying, entertaining affair. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen so often this season, the Giallorossi fell behind early, which meant that any game plan Mourinho had put together was thrown out the window when Roma was down 2-0 by the 20th minute.
Lazio struck first after a lovely header by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. That was followed by the real dagger: ex-Roma man Pedro hit on the counter-attack after Nicolo Zaniolo went down in the box with no call from Marco Guida.
A Roger Ibañez header right before halftime gave the Giallorossi life and set up what would be a frantic second half. Felipe Anderson restored Lazio’s two-goal advantage before a Jordan Veretout penalty gave Roma life yet again. A big save on Zaniolo by Pepe Reina moments later ensured the Biancoceleste would capture all three points and withstand a furious Roma comeback attempt.
What To Watch For
Will Fatigue Be An Issue?
One theme that’s developed over the course of the season is just how much less effective the Giallorossi have been during two-match weeks. The Europa Conference League may not be the most prestigious of European competitions, but 90 minutes on a player’s legs are still 90 minutes on a player’s legs whether it’s against Vitesse or Real Madrid.
And Roma enters this fixture having played a difficult 1-1 match against Vitesse just 72 hours earlier. Had it not been for a late Tammy Abraham goal, the Giallorossi would’ve played another 30 minutes of extra time. By the grace of the Roman calcio gods that didn’t happen.
Nevertheless, Mourinho has repeatedly pointed out his side's lack of depth this season. After the Bodø beatdown earlier in the competition, Mourinho was forced to play the majority of his preferred XI in matches like Thursday’s. In fact, as many as seven of Sunday’s starters also started Thursday with two more coming off the bench.
That will likely put the Giallorossi at a disadvantage against a Lazio side that was eliminated from the Europa League last month, leaving it essentially fully rested for Sunday’s derby after last playing Venezia on Monday.
As Mourinho put it in his post-match comments, Lazio’s players were sitting around smoking cigarettes with Sarri. I don’t know how good that is for a player’s fitness, but we get his point.
The early adrenaline of a packed Olimpico for a derby should help early on, but the Giallorossi will be well served to avoid falling behind and having to mount a comeback like the first meeting. Given the minutes played of late, sitting back defending the lead would certainly be preferable.
Can Roma Contain Sarri-Ball?
One area where the Giallorossi have improved in recent weeks is in keeping opposing attacks at bay. In fact, Roma has conceded just three goals in its last five matches in all competitions (two clean sheets) after struggling on that front earlier in the season.
Lazio will present a whole different challenge on Sunday, though. The Biancoceleste have scored the second-most goals in the league (58), which equates to exactly two goals per match; second only to Inter.
The first match-up provided us with a clear idea of just how dangerous this Lazio side can be with striker Ciro Immobile not even finding the scoresheet. In fact, Sarri’s side was clinical—scoring three goals on just four shots on target.
This one will likely provide the contrasting styles that we were deprived of in the first match up when Lazio’s early goals forced the Giallorossi to take more initiative in attack. I’d expect to see Roma absorb pressure and try to spring out on the counter-attack, while Lazio controls the lion’s share of possession.
If that is the case then Roma’s midfield pairing, likely Bryan Cristante and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, will be key in denying SMS and Luis Alberto too much time on the ball. It’s a big ask for two players that aren’t DMs, but a similar performance to the one against Atalanta could put the Giallorossi in position for three points.
Who Steps Up In Attack?
There’s no question that Tammy Abraham has become Roma’s main man in attack. The Englishman’s €45 million price tag is looking more and more like a bargain with each goal he scores. His 21 goals in all competitions have made Edin Dzeko’s tenure feel more and more like ancient Roman history by the week. And when Abraham scores in a big match (Atalanta x2, Vitesse), it usually bodes well for the Giallorossi. Lazio will know that and likely look to take him out of the match.
If that happens then it’ll likely come down to one or both of Zaniolo or Lorenzo Pellegrini taking the reins in the attack. Both players avoided being booked and suspended for this one last weekend; something that could be key for Roma.
Zaniolo had one of his best matches in the first meeting between these two sides in September— drawing a penalty and forcing two big saves from Reina in the match. If Roma does sit back and look to counter then this could have Zaniolo’s name written all over it.
Meanwhile, Pellegrini was unlucky to miss the first meeting after a suspect red card against Udinese. At the time, the Roman was in scalding form and proved to be a big miss for Mourinho. This time around his form isn’t quite as blazing and he’s recovering from a fever that kept him out of Friday’s training.
However, he’ll be chomping at the bit to lead his side in his first meaningful derby as captain. We’ve seen in the past just how big these derbies are for Roman-born players and it’ll be up to Pellegrini to rise to the occasion and be one of the standouts in leading his side to victory.
Mourinho: “Everyone is available for this one - Spinazzola being the only exception, of course.
With those words, Mourinho confirmed the availability of everyone, including Pellegrini. Roma has nobody suspended for this one either. Meanwhile, Lazio will be without Italian international winger Mattia Zaccagni through suspension and Radu through injury.
Roma (3-4-1-2): Patricio; Ibanez, Smalling, Mancini; Zalewski, Cristante, Mkhitarya, Karsdorp; Pellegrini; Zaniolo, Abraham
Lazio (4-3-3): Strakosha; Patric, Luiz Felipe, Acerbi, Hysaj; Luis Alberto, Leiva, Milinkovic-Savic; Felipe Anderson, Immobile, Pedro