The Rome derby is more than just a football match.
Occasional cup clashes aside, it's a biannual event that's ripe for conversation 365 days a year. So often, it is one of the defining moments in both Roma's and Lazio's season—and more often than not, it's a clash of tradition and ideology.
Lazio, the older of the two, Roma, more successful. Lazio, with its links to the provinces, Roma, its core support found deeply rooted in the inner city. More often than not, too, this is a battle of ideologies. Not only among the various Ultra groups found in the Curva Nord and Curva Sud, but also on the pitch.
This match was no different. Vladimir Petkovic's Aquile came into the game in poor form, but they're a well-drilled, physical side that thrive on hard defending and counterattacks. A perfect setup for the pressure-cooker environment of a derby.
Aurelio Andreazzoli's Roma, meanwhile, come with echoes of Spalletti and the free-flowing, fast-paced football that grabbed the attention of so many towards the end of the last decade. The Tuscan coach has done well since taking over from Zdenek Zeman; the tifosi were cautiously optimistic.
Lazio had won the last three derbies—an unthinkable affront to Roman sensibility. For their part, the Biancocelesti's pride has been hurt in recent months following their fall from the top of the table. How dearly they'd have liked to arrest that descent against their bitter rivals and add another to that winning streak.
There's no such thing as a meaningless derby in the Italian capital, but this meeting had extra significance for both sides.
Though the capital's two clubs have had wildly contrasting seasons, they've somehow found themselves too close for comfort in the table—battling for the last crucial European places. The derby, then, presented an opportunity for both to not only help their continental cause, but also to twist the knife on their crosstown foes.
On the night, the city was awash with excitement. Rush-hour traffic was diverted as throngs of fans flooded to the stadium hours before kick-off. Roma warmed up under a packed Curva Sud to rapturous applause. And then they brought out Marco Delvecchio.
To the uninitiated, that name might not be familiar. The striker from Milan won a Scudetto with Roma, where he played for a decade and earned 22 international caps with Italy. But here, he's remembered for one thing more than anything else: scoring goals against Lazio.
The 40-year-old greeted the Curva with delight as a montage of his goals played on the big screens. Happier times, when both clubs were among the strongest in Europe, but with Roma usually having the upper hand.
How the Giallorossi could do with Marco's goals now. The derby ended 1-1, with Lazio going ahead and then missing a penalty before, Totti converted a spot kick of his own and Roma spent the last quarter of the game desperately trying to find the winner against a Lazio side reduced to 10 men.
Only one team came to the Stadio Olimpico to play football. Lazio, particularly defenders Giuseppe Biava, who was sent off, and Stefan Radu, who should have been, came to frustrate.
Roma's frantic, almost desperate floods of gushing, attacking football were certainly entertaining. But they had an air of hopelessness about them. After Biava's dismissal, Michael Ciani came on and shored up the defence. Lazio went forward less, but they were no weaker in their own half. The game continued as they wanted it to, even if they had to work a little harder.
But the result almost doesn't matter. Or rather, it matters more in the context of all the results that have come before this season.
The Aquile were characteristically rough throughout, particularly with Francesco Totti, whose deft flicks and subtle control seemed to frustrate to the point of exasperation. But Roma should have expected that. Such is their style, and they are after all entitled to play however they wish within the boundaries of the rules.
Romanisti, then, should save their annoyance for their own side, because Roma had more than enough chances to win this tie. In blue, only the ever-excellent Hernanes and Federico Marchetti were up to the standard of the home side.
So how is it, with a squad full of good players obviously capable of playing attractive, attacking football, Roma languish in seventh, three points below their city rivals? That's a question their coach is asking himself right now. As he said afterwards: "Why are we seventh if we've got so many good players?"
In the post-match press conference, the talk from Andreazzoli was of inconsistency and a lack of confidence. To say that was stating the obvious would be an understatement. This is a squad that on paper should be much further up the table.
In Totti, Roma have one of the game's greatest ever players in vintage form. There are several other fine, experienced footballers on the books, and the squad is packed with youthful promise, highlighted by the fact that the 18-year-old centre-back Marquinhos is being linked to some of Europe's biggest clubs.
Daniele De Rossi is generally considered to be among the finest midfielders playing today, and Erik Lamela is an attacker with almost limitless potential: good with both feet, creative, accurate from distance and lightning fast. And there's plenty more talent, too.
Having lost the derby earlier in the season and drawn against their out-of-form rivals in the second edition, it might be time for Roma to look across the city and ponder what Lazio are doing. Make no mistake about it: Petkovic is achieving much more with less.
Yes, their form is indifferent right now. But at the risk of sounding confused, it's consistently indifferent. Lazio were flying in the first half of the season and have since hit a slump. It might be injuries or fatigue, but at least it's visible.
Roma are no easier to understand then they were the first day of the season. They're a team who can in the space of a week get battered by Napoli and then hammer Milan, or be beaten by Sampdoria and then overcome Juventus.
Roma need to find consistency. Otherwise, come derby time next season, they'll likely find themselves in the exact same position: playing straight into Lazio's hands, desperately chasing a last-minute winner.
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