Roma must focus minds on Lazio after stunning Champions League win
It’s not often the Rome derby creeps up on you, but after Tuesday’s history-making comeback against Barcelona and the subsequent drawing of Liverpool for Roma’s second-ever Champions League semifinal, Sunday’s massive clash with Lazio almost feels like a sideshow. Even though this derby has much more than just local pride riding on it.
Rome — or rather, the city’s Giallorosso majority — went into full-on party mode on Tuesday night, with people taking to the streets and frolicking among the cobbles deep into the early hours of Wednesday morning, having not just hammered Lionel Messi & Co. 3-0, but outplaying them from the first minute to the last.
In overhauling the 4-1 defeat at the Camp Nou, Roma didn’t just break the habit of a lifetime and dish out a European beating rather than take one, they helped inject a bit more pride back into Italian football. Tuesday’s display was a reminder of the days when calcio ruled the continent, only it wasn’t Juventus, or the Milanese giants, or even the much-lauded Napoli doing it. It was Roma, the team that traditionally growls like a wolf only to shrink into rabbit form once the headlights are switched on.
Incredibly, on Saturday the derby could barely be seen on the front cover of Rome edition of the Corriere Dello Sport, a paper that traditionally dedicates page after page to the match in the week, sometimes even two weeks leading up to it. You had to go all the way to page 14 to find even the first mention of it, with article after article dedicated to Friday’s draw, how to stop former hero Mohamed Salah and revenge against Liverpool.
The 1984 European Cup final defeat to the Reds — on home turf, no less — still cuts very deep, especially for fans of that vintage. Those that weren’t there have had the pain passed down to them by the older generations.
Ironically, Lazio come into the derby fresh from “doing a Barcelona” in midweek, conceding three goals in four minutes to chuck away what Ciro Immobile had made a 5-2 aggregate lead in Salzburg to get dumped out of Europe. Domestically they’re going great guns, though, and come into the weekend fourth, level on 60 points with their third-placed city rivals.
One of the silver linings of being so roundly humiliated in the Europa League is that Lazio are free to concentrate on their qualification on the Champions League, and maybe stopping Roma from qualifying for next season’s competition. Eusebio Di Francesco has the odd task, meanwhile, of preparing for one of the world’s most famous fixtures with one eye on another even bigger game, which could easily distract his team from the task at hand.
Although being the only Italian side left in the Champions League, getting into the competition again remains a priority for the club and will further stabilise the accounts. Who knows, maybe they’ll even be able to build a squad big enough and good enough to challenge seriously on three fronts next season, rather than flog key players and start again.
Sunday’s clash is by far and away the biggest game for Lazio in the season’s closing run — although their final day showdown with Inter, just a point behind the Romans, might run it close should the Champions League race remain as tight as it is now. And after what the Laziali have had to put up with this week, putting a dent in their bitter rivals’ qualification hopes would be a pretty sweet way to end it.
Simone Inzaghi’s team have, in truth, been a more impressive team than Roma for most of the Serie A season and before their inverse continental experiences in midweek, Lazio were probably coming into the derby with more optimism. That’s mostly down to the incredible attack that Inzaghi has built on the other bank of the Tiber, which after crashing home 75 goals is the currently country’s most prolific.
Roma, meanwhile, hadn’t won in three before bashing Barca and were roundly booed off after losing 2-0 at home to Fiorentina last week. That result left them one game away from equalling a decades-old club record for home games lost in a single season.
In fact, miles behind title chasers Juventus and Napoli and knocked of the Coppa Italia by bang average Torino, the lion’s share of this season’s highlights have come, bizarrely, in the Champions League. Sunday is a chance to readdress that balance.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC’s AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley