FootballSerie A

Derby della Capitale: Roma’s summer of upheaval gives Lazio the edge

August 30, 2019

EVERYTHING about the Rome derby assaults the senses. Sunday evening sees the latest instalment of this clash, a game where viewers know they can expect noise, choreographed displays from supporters, smoke bombs, flares, and even fan politics at the Stadio Olimpico to combine to once again make a meeting between AS Roma and Lazio a memorable one.

It is a fixture steeped in history, passion and a game that – perhaps more than any other on the peninsula – is played between two teams who have always stood in sharp contrast to one another both on and off the field. Lazio have perennially been the more combustible club, lurching from one controversy to another over the last five decades as they notched up both trophy-winning seasons and unsavoury headlines with equal aplomb.

Yet over recent years, the Biancocelesti have become the Italian capital’s more stable team, somehow eschewing the turmoil that has often engulfed them to become an example of what can be achieved with good planning, sensible strategy and intelligence.

Back in 2016, Lazio made Simone Inzaghi their head coach. In the three seasons since, they have won two trophies and narrowly missed out on a Champions League berth, continually making small improvements to the team and consistently unearthing quality additions to their squad. In his first two campaigns, the former Italy international steered the club to consecutive fifth-placed finishes, but even as they slumped to eighth last term,

Lazio did not panic. Instead they have worked to help Inzaghi with yet more well considered signings, with an addition like Manuel Lazzarri underlining their excellent approach. The 25-year-old has proved his quality with SPAL, and the energetic wing-back will fit seamlessly into Inzaghi’s system while being a huge upgrade in a position of need.

They have also retained all of last season’s key players, shunning a number of offers for star man Sergej Milinković-Savić, as well as influential duo Luis Alberto and Felipe Caicedo. Together, those three could have generated huge profits for Lazio, but instead the club preferred to keep them on the pitch to help keep the team in contention at the top of the table.

“After winning the Supercoppa and Coppa Italia, we must now finish in the top four, even though it will be tough,” Inzaghi told reporters after Lazio got 2019/20 off to a great start, thumping Sampdoria 3-0. “We’ve started well and there’s a derby on Sunday. We know what it’s worth, it’s a unique game and we know how much our fans will get behind us.” Yet the coach is also aware that his team continues to be overlooked, going on to add that “there’s always very little talked about Lazio and I’m used to it!”

But even as Lazio remain underrated, they would probably prefer that to what happened at Roma last term. Following on from their run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2017/18, much was expected of the Giallorossi, only to see them flop badly, coach Eusebio Di Francesco and sporting director Monchi overseeing a complete disaster last term.

Rather than mount a title challenge or repeat their excellent form in Europe, Roma wound up finishing sixth and were soundly beaten by FC Porto in the Champions League last-16. A string of terrible transfer decisions cost Monchi his job, Di Francesco also relieved of his duties as once again the Giallorossi were forced to hit the reset button.

Shakhtar Donetsk boss Paulo Fonseca was hired to fill the coaching vacancy, while another raft of new faces arrived during the transfer window. Every department was given an overhaul, with club legend Daniele De Rossi surprisingly among those to make way, the 35-year-old denied the chance to play out his entire career with his hometown club.

That decision also ultimately led to Francesco Totti quitting his role as a director, and he remains wholly unconvinced that Roma will succeed with their new look side. “I hope that I’m wrong, but when you’ve been in football for 30 years, you have a good eye,” he told Radio Radio earlier this week. “I think the top three are already decided, then anything can happen after that. Unfortunately, Roma can only hope to fight for fourth place.”

The club’s managerial team would probably accept a Champions League berth this term, but with those around them strengthening, it will be no easy feat for Fonseca in his debut campaign. The Portuguese boss could only look on as Kostas Manolas, Stephan El Shaarawy and Steven Nzonzi all moved on, leaving Fonseca hoping to see yet more reinforcements drafted in before the transfer window closes.

“As I’ve already said, I have faith in my players,” the coach told reporters after last weekend’s 3-3 draw with Genoa. “It is well known that we are looking for a centre-back and hope to get him by the end of the transfer market, but he can’t just be anyone. We need a player who adds value or there’s no point.”

Chris Smalling has surprisingly been a name mentioned as a potential target, but whoever arrives will not be in time to help against Lazio. At 6pm local time on Sunday, Roma will go head-to-head with their old rivals, and both will hope their respective approach is the one that ultimately proves triumphant.

They could not have arrived at this point in more differing fashion, but both still hope to seal a top four finish by the end of the season. A defeat in the Derby della Capitale would be a huge blow for either side, with Roma and Lazio once again providing exactly the kind of contrast that makes their meetings so intriguing.