“It’s all or nothing,” said Roma Coach Aurelio Andreazzoli and that absolutely sums up the game we’re going to see today. Win the match and you have silverware, Europa League qualification, a season that wasn’t a total disaster and the right to say you’ve won the most important Derby della Capitale of all time, the historic 158th. Lose and you’re not only empty-handed – your arch enemy will walk over and steal everything you’ve got left, then set fire to it in a bin. While laughing.
I doubt there is any city rivalry in the world as bitter as the one in Rome, as “you’ve got to win the derby” is the first thing any new arrival hears. The rest of the season could go down the toilet, but as long as the derby goes the right way, all is forgiven. The way these campaigns have gone, it is literally all they’ve got left to cling to.
Lazio fans swaggered around the Eternal City for most of the year, as new Coach Vladimir Petkovic had overcome summer scepticism to challenge for the top of Serie A, reach the Europa League quarter-finals unbeaten and the Coppa Italia Final. On the Giallorossi end of the divide, enthusiasm for Zdenek Zeman’s spectacular football soon waned as it became clear results simply weren’t coming and fans increasingly sided against him over dropping Daniele De Rossi in favour of Panagiotis Tachtsidis.
It all turned around with the advent of spring. Lazio tired in the long run at competing in three tournaments with a small squad, crashing out of Europe and tumbling down the Serie A table until they finished in seventh – behind Roma. Andreazzoli was promoted from the staff to replace sacked Zeman and shored up the worst defence in the top flight, albeit making them far less entertaining for fans and neutrals alike.
As one club rose, the other fell and they now meet in the middle. The Stadio Olimpico will be like the Thunderdome today – two teams enter, one team leaves. Roma have momentum, confidence and perhaps a little bit more desire, as their season has otherwise been a total failure. Lazio at least progressed in Europe and were in the race for third before fatigue took its toll. Now they have had a week to train intensively and prepare for this one match, perhaps that will cancel out the factors that cost them so dearly in the final weeks of the campaign.
Statistics don’t help us predict this game either. The Biancocelesti are unbeaten in four derbies, earning three straight wins and April’s 1-1 draw, but on the other hand Roma have scored in each of the last 13 editions for a total 22 goals. A victory would make Roma the first club ever to win the Coppa Italia 10 times and earn a permanent silver star on their shirts, but they’ve lost seven Finals compared to Lazio faltering just once in six attempts. We can certainly expect fire, as the last five meetings provided eight red cards and 34 bookings.
It’s such a finely balanced encounter, you could place it on the head of a pin and still not see it swing one way or the other. No favourites, no predictions, no room for error. It’s the ultimate Derby della Capitale.