What: Italian Serie A
Who: Roma (6th; 46 points) vs Lazio (4th; 51 points)
When: Sunday 13th March, 2011, 14:00 UK time
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
Chasing the Champions League Dream
Lazio enter this showdown in possession of the priceless fourth and final qualifying spot for next season’s Champions League, five points ahead of their sixth-placed cross-city rivals. Tommaso Rocchi and company have punched above their weight all season, building on a rock solid back line that boasts the league’s second best defensive record. The sceptics have been forced to rethink their stance. These 90 minutes will go a long way to determining whether Lazio can last the pace.
A victory for the blue and white half of the city would all but kill off Roma’s top four ambitions, providing an intriguing subplot to the second Rome derby of the season. Having lost the first 2-0, Lazio will need little motivation to make amends in what is arguably their biggest game of the season.
Boss Edy Reja is well aware of the significance of the game, telling the club’s website: “For us, the derby will be an important match, different from all the others and we want to get a result. We want to give it our all because it is a fundamental match for our fans and for the standings.”
Roma’s humbling Champions League elimination at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk was a major body blow for a side still dealing with Claudio Ranieri’s exit and adjusting to new caretaker boss Vincenzo Montella. On paper, it seemed the easiest clash, considering the other group winners in the draw, but Roma were comprehensively outplayed home and away.
And so attention turns to Serie A again, with Montella seeking to prevent a hangover from the European setback. The tiring trip to the Ukraine in midweek cannot have helped matters and that could play into the hands of Lazio, who have had a full week to prepare for the battle.
Worse still, confidence is dropping fast and there have been signs that the dressing room is not entirely united, emphasised by the dispute over penalty-taking duties in midweek. All in all, the timing of this derby is far from ideal from a Roma perspective.
But Montella – who knows all about the derby from his playing days at Roma – is refusing to panic, admitting: “A month ago, we were all brilliant players – so I don’t know why people are thinking different now. Nobody goes out there to lose.”
Lazio 1-0 Bari (20/02; Serie A)
Cagliari 1-0 Lazio (27/02; Serie A)
Lazio 2-0 Palermo (06/03; Serie A)
Roma 2-2 Parma (27/02; Serie A)
Lecce 1-2 Roma (04/03; Serie A)
Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 Roma (08/03; Champions League)
Lazio: Andre Dias (doubt), Stefan Mauri (doubt), Tommaso Rocchi (doubt)
Roma: Francesco Totti (doubt)
Players to watch
Lazio – Hernanes: The Brazilian has been Lazio’s key figure for much of the campaign, and the 25-year-old midfielder has made his mark both with goals and assists and should be a real handful for Roma. If fit, Stefano Mauri‘s all-round ability to influence the game from midfield will also be key.
Roma – David Pizarro: The Chilean midfielder could be crucial in the job of carving open Lazio’s defence. At Rome since 2006, Pizarro is well aware of what is needed to beat the club’s city rivals. Defence will be a key area too and Philippe Mexes will be eager to atone for his reckless dismissal at Shakhtar in midweek.
With unresolved issues still on the surface for Roma, the advantage lies with Lazio, who enter the game as the fresher team. The fact that the stakes are so high for both teams adds extra spice to this derby and it is sure to be full of passion and tension. But look for Reja’s men to prevail and take another big stride towards a top four finish.