This is a derby that rarely affects matters at the top of the table, and the biggest prize on offer for these two Gladiators is local pride. Encounters between Lazio and Roma have been described as Italy’s fiercest and most intense, littered with passion, corruption, even violence, and the only people their Ultras hate more than each other are the police. The two teams have won just five Scudetti between them – I Biancocelesti in 1999/00 and I Giallorossi in 200/01 – and they will not be adding to that number this season, but that doesn’t matter. It never has. For the fans, outdoing and finishing above the other is what defines their season.
“You do not play a derby, you win it,” former Roma manager Rudi García had said at the start of his first campaign. They went on to win 2-0 that season and since then, Lazio have won just once (in April 2017). There have been no draws in the last six meetings, and Roma have won five of those. Earlier in November, Diego Perotti’s early second half penalty had given Roma the lead and a fierce effort from Radja Nainggolan had doubled it, although Lazio threatened after a spot-kick was awarded and Ciro Immobile duly obliged.
That was his 15th league goal; he has continued to score at an exceptional rate throughout the season and now has 27 – leading the Serie A scoring charts with three more than Inter’s Mauro Icardi – which is nearly twice as many as Roma’s Edin Dzeko (14). It should come as no surprise that Lazio are the top scoring team in the league, with 75 goals after 31 games played. Immobile, Luis Alberto and Sergey Milinkovic-Savic have been directly involved in 67 of those, chipping in with a combined total of 45 goals and 22 assists. Lazio have only failed to score twice since their 0-0 draw against SPAL on the opening day, with the other occasions being another goalless draw at Inter in December and a 1-0 loss to leaders Juventus at home in March.
Lazio and Roma sit third and fourth in Serie A, respectively, and are only separated by goal difference. Although they have identical records in the league – 18 wins, six draws and seven defeats – their midweek performances in Europe were those of extreme contrast. The endings were remarkable and the scenes at the final whistle were extraordinary; but when it was all over, only one of the two capital clubs had finished the Italian job. One soaked in a night which would go down in history, while the other looked on in disbelief.
Roma produced a stunning comeback against Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final: they had, as Peter Drury remarked, “risen from their ruins” and “pulled off a miracle” to win 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico. Dzeko’s early goal had provided Eusebio Di Francesco’s side with a slim hope, Daniele De Rossi’s penalty made it realistic, and Kostas “Greek God” Manolas’ header meant that they had successfully overhauled a 4-1 deficit, which sparked manic celebrations and created memories that would last a lifetime.
That kicked off a three-day rollercoaster for Italian football, but the highest point had been reached on the first one itself. A gut-wrenching loss for Juventus against Real Madrid was only aggravated when Lazio mustered a collapse of staggering proportions against Red Bull Salzburg. Incredibly, they managed to throw away a 4-2 lead from the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final to lose 6-5 on aggregate.
Immobile’s brilliant opener after 55 minutes appeared to have put Lazio on course to reach the semi-final, but Munas Dabbur, the top scorer in the Austrian Bundesliga, immediately responded with the equaliser, before a frantic six-minute spell effectively decided the game. After Alberto missed the chance to kill the tie, Amadou Haidara scored from distance and Hwang Hee-Chan put the hosts ahead. Simone Inzaghi and his team wilted when it mattered most. Stefain Lainer was allowed to head in his side’s fourth, which sent the Red Bull Arena into a frenzy, and Lazio’s Road to Lyon ended in Austria.
The only thing they can do now is make sure they return next season, possibly in Europe’s elite competition. If Inter win against Atalanta, they will be guaranteed to overtake one or both of the Rome teams in the three-horse race for the final two Champions League positions. Both Lazio and Roma had benefited from the goalless stalemate in the Milan derby two weeks ago. Inter currently sit just one point behind them, and the result from their meeting will go a long way towards deciding which of them occupy the vital positions at the end of the season. And, of course, more importantly, which of them would reign supreme in Rome – until the next one.
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