The highways and byways of Italian football are littered with the form books which pundits reckon we are best to throw out of the window ahead of every derby. However, we students of Calcio history know exactly which one the big four cross-city clashes in Serie A produces the highest percentage of draws. In Rome - more than Turin, Genoa or Milan - we have learned down the years that our post-match analysis will often be in assessing who the moral victors were when the honours on the field of play have ended up even.
In this, if nothing else, the weekend’s Derby della Capitale was gloriously predictable. The result was in doubt until the final whistle, as both teams did their best to secure three points which would have served their purposes much more. But, as the clash concluded, we were left to weigh up who had the most cause for regret at not having grabbed the win which would have allowed bragging rights in the bars of the city on Monday morning.
The answer to that question - to these eyes anyway - was probably Roma. The Giallorossi were on the front foot for more of the match and, having come into the clash as underdogs, appeared to do more to earn a victory. You could argue, of course, that as their “home” game it was only right that this should be the case.
Yet they went into the match playing down their chances and sitting seven points behind their most bitter rivals, having played a game more. The mood music was almost that of acceptance that Lazio were much further down the road towards becoming the finished article. Thankfully for their fans, there was no such supine statement from the team that went out onto the pitch.
Paulo Fonseca shuffled his pack a little, with the choice of Leonardo Spinazzola over Aleksandar Kolarov the most hotly discussed move. Controversial as it might have been, however, it proved to work well as Roma took the initiative and were able to push Manuel Lazzari into the much more uncomfortable role of defending rather than teasing his opposite number.
With Cengiz Under also on one of his more positive days, it felt like the Giallorossi deserved their lead when it eventually came - courtesy of Edin Dzeko, of course. It was hard not to have a few doubts over Thomas Strakosha’s attempted intervention too.
That stunned Simone Inzaghi’s side and they seemed to struggle to shake off the shock until an even more questionable piece of goalkeeping threw them a lifeline. Pau Lopez, who has had a fine season, blotted his copybook in one of his biggest matches with a mis-judgement that allowed Francesco Acerbi to equalise. As half-time rolled around, there was definitely a feeling that Lazio had more reasons to be happy with the scoreline.
The second half was a more combative affair with a penalty given to Roma but then ruled out - correctly it seemed - via VAR. From a spectacle point of view, it might have been better if it had been allowed to stand, but the decision looked the right one. Neither side could break the deadlock in the end and allow themselves to pursue their respective league targets with greater gusto.
As we mulled over the game with our post-match digestivo, it felt like we had witnessed a decent clash between two good sides, neither of which is entirely sure exactly how good it might be. For Lazio, this was a step backwards in performance from some of the scintillating stuff they have produced this term. The window to become Juve’s biggest rivals for the Scudetto had been left open, but they decided to walk past it - for now at least.
As for Roma, they had belied the pre-match chat of being so far behind their city rivals with a largely convincing display. This was another move towards finding a definite identity to their play, but there was a sensation that they did not quite have the self-belief to go and grab an emphatic win. That, too, can still come with time.
Indeed, while city cousins will fight over who had most right to celebrate at full-time, the rest of us could nod in appreciation at two of Serie A’s finer outfits. Lazio have clearly got a bigger and more impressive recent body of work behind them, but their most bitter rivals also appear to be heading in the right direction.
The result may have been a very familiar one, but this Derby della Capitale was one which underlined that both occupants of the Stadio Olimpico have plenty going for them these days.
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