Sunday April 15 2018
Rome back on the map

After a week of stunning European turnarounds, Roma and Lazio go head-to-head in an extremely high stakes Derby della Capitale, writes Emmet Gates

What a difference a week makes. Football is often a sport of momentum, of conviction, of tactical decisions that can be the epicentre of seismic change. Never was that more pertinent than this week.

Eusebio Di Francesco, a Zdenek Zeman disciple seemingly wedded to a 4-3-3 system, decided to radically shift from his beliefs a mere two days before their game against Barcelona on Tuesday night.

Di Francesco employed a 3-4-1-2, a formation never before implemented, and the end result was Roma pulling off arguably the greatest result in the club’s history, and conversely seeing them into a European semi-final for the first time since the 1991 UEFA Cup. Di Francesco’s already burgeoning reputation within the peninsula is now gaining global status.

Just two nights later, Lazio and Simone Inzaghi felt the reverse effect. Despite fielding their strongest XI, sticking to their usual 3-5-1-1 formation, having a two-goal cushion from the first leg and adding to their advantage early in the second half through Ciro Immobile, the Biancocelesti then somehow contrived to blow a three-goal lead inside 20 ludicrous minutes at the Red Bull Arena. Inzaghi didn’t know whether to stick or twist.

Lazio’s ‘blackout’, as Inzaghi said afterwards, cost them a first semi-final in 15 years and a possible route to the Final, given that Salzburg drew Marseille rather than favourites Atletico Madrid or Arsenal. A hard lesson for Inzaghi’s young and brash side to swallow.

Prior to the midweek European games, both side’s form in Serie A had been patchy: Lazio had only won two of their last five games, dropping points against Cagliari and Bologna. Roma meanwhile, had drawn 1-1 with Bologna and lost 2-0 at home to Fiorentina going into the Barcelona game. Minds were clearly elsewhere.

Yet the enormity of Roma’s comeback triumph on Tuesday night will give the Giallorossi the feeling that they can now take on all comers in the league. Di Francesco’s European masterclass exorcised a string of demons on the continent, stretching back to their 7-1 mauling against Manchester United in April 2007. The Roma boss has been coy over the possibility of sticking with his newfound system.

Both this season have made the capital a footballing force for the first time since arguably the turn of the century. They’ve brought the focus back to the Eternal City through their European adventures, together having their best seasons since 1998-99.

Contrast the mood in both camps, and all the evidence points to a Roma victory, but as Di Francesco has noted in the build up to the game, a derby is a standalone event, and form counts for precious little.

This is the biggest Roman affair since the final of the Coppa Italia nearly half a decade ago. With both teams battling it out for Champions League positions, they can ill afford to lose ground, especially with Inter right in the mix and Milan slowly encroaching.

Lazio will surely have taken stock of all the added revenue Champions League football brings, with Roma having earned an estimated €95m through a combination of UEFA, the TV market pool and gate receipts. Huge money for a team trying desperately to stay in tune with FFP.

Their city neighbours want a piece of that lucrative pie. In the corresponding fixture last season, the attendance was around the 40,000 mark. Latest reports suggest there will be between 55-60,000 Romans inside the Stadio Olimpico. The stakes couldn’t be any higher.

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Have your say...
ciao amici!
good luck to AS ROMA but they have a mountain to climb to beat Liverpool!
history show's AS ROMA were the better team with losing only once since 2001-2016!
however an believably bad time management by serie A organizers have them play one game on Wed against GENOA and one against SPAL on Saturday!
LIVERPOOL will be much fresher with 3 days more rest between 2 games!
hopefully AS ROMA will get a good result out of it!
on the 18th April, 2018 at 6:45am
@Gianfranco may be thats the reason they are in top 4 because they have only 3 italian players in the lineup how many worldclass player are there who are italian, big FAT ZERO
on the 16th April, 2018 at 7:27pm
Wow, 3 of the 22 starting players in today's Derby are Italian. This is shameful and embodies everything that is wrong with Italian soccer right now.
on the 15th April, 2018 at 8:46pm
Forza Roma!
on the 15th April, 2018 at 2:40pm

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