We’re not used to this. The Derby della Capitale, Italy’s most ferocious rivalry, is just two days away . And we’re still in August.
This is the fixture that can define a season for Lazio and Roma, the game that fans traditionally spend months mentally preparing for at the dawn of a new season.
Not this time, as Lega Serie A decided to shake things up by scheduling the capital clash in the second week of the season, the first time it will ever take place so early.
Given the timing of the game, all the hard evidence we have to go on so far is the opening weekend of fixtures, which ended in contrasting emotions for the two clubs.
For Lazio, things couldn’t have gone much better. A trip to Sampdoria in week one looked like a banana skin-in-waiting, but Simone Inzaghi’s side thrilled in a dominant 3-0 victory.
Pre-season preparations suggested that finding the net won’t be a problem for the Biancocelesti this season and a swashbuckling display from Ciro Immobile, Joaquin Correa, Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic would’ve yielded even more goals were it not for some outstanding saves from Samp goalkeeper Emil Audero.
Manuel Lazzari impressed on his competitive debut despite wearing a protective glove to nurse a broken finger, while Thomas Strakosha pulled off some important stops and the defence held firm to secure a clean sheet.
It was a better start than Lazio fans could’ve possibly hoped for and things have since got even better with the news that new signing Jony has received permission from FIFA to feature in the Derby, while the likes of Lucas Leiva, Felipe Caicedo and even the elusive Jordan Lukaku have shaken off injury problems.
Roma, on the other hand, heralded the dawn of a new era under Paulo Fonseca with a performance that raised some not-so-new questions.
Under Eusebio Di Francesco’s leadership last season the Giallorossi made a habit of throwing away leads, notably when Chievo came from two goals down to draw 2-2 at the Stadio Olimpico and Cagliari came back from the same margin with six minutes left in Sardinia, despite having a man sent off.
Roma took the lead twice against Inter at home only to be pegged back both times, while perhaps most astonishingly they surrendered a 3-0 half-time lead against Atalanta to draw 3-3 in January.
Their opening day clash with Genoa went much the same way as the hosts went ahead three times and conceded three times to secure a 3-3 draw.
Roma have signed an entirely new defence this summer, Chris Smalling becoming the latest addition this week, but Fonseca trusted the old guard for his opening game and got familiar results as Juan Jesus and Federico Fazio failed to cover themselves in glory for Genoa’s goals.
But for all their defensive deficiencies the Giallorossi do look sharp at the other end and only Inter (24) finished the weekend with more shots on goal than their 23 efforts.
A fired-up Cengiz Under and in-form Edin Dzeko have more than enough about them to cause Lazio’s defence real issues, but the opening day results have seen many tipping Lazio to come out on top on Sunday evening.
The problem for Inzaghi’s men, however, is that recent history suggests that being considered favourites for a Rome Derby is a bad omen.
You see the same clichés being bandied about before any derby match: “The form book goes out the window ”. “It’s anyone’s game.”
But a pattern has emerged over the last few years that suggests the smart money is almost always on whichever team goes into the capital city’s biggest fixture in poorer form.
Last season, Lazio went into the first clash with their rivals on the back of four consecutive wins, while Roma had racked up just one win in five. The result? Roma 3-1 Lazio.
Fast forward to March and it was a different story. Three defeats from five games left Lazio’s hopes of a top four finish hanging in the balance and their fiercest rivals were on an eight-match unbeaten run. Lazio won 3-0.
If we go back to the 2017/18 season, we find Lazio losing 2-1 to Roma after going into their November meeting on a seven-game winning run (although admittedly the Lupi were also in good form at the time), while both teams had scored eight goals in their previous three matches before playing out a 0-0 draw in April 2018.
The season before, 2016/17, saw a Roma side that had just lost to Atalanta end Lazio’s nine-game unbeaten run with a 2-0 victory, before Lazio recovered from mid-table form to win 3-1 and end their rivals’ run of five wins from six.
The last three campaigns of Serie A meetings between the teams has therefore shown that derby clichés exist for a reason.
That won’t dampen Lazio’s confidence though, and nor should it. They have some new history to write; a win on Sunday would mark their first back-to-back Derby della Capitale victories since 2012, while if they keep a clean sheet, it would be the first time they’ve avoided conceding in three consecutive ‘home’ clashes with Roma since March 1998.
This history of unpredictability can be used as an extra motivation for Inzaghi’s men. The coach was on the bench for all of the aforementioned games and knows by now to take nothing for granted.
While Lazio have a fast start and squad stability to count on, down in the south of the city their rivals are a wounded beast that possess the firepower to inflict real damage.
As always, one thing’s for sure: it’ll be a terrific spectacle.
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