Nothing is, of course, decided at this stage of the season, but the race for places two, three and four in the Serie A is very hot at the moment, and it provided an additional spark to an already fiery affair that is the Derby of Rome. Lazio emerged victorious, courtesy of a solitary strike by Mattia Zaccagni, and won extremely important three points on top of the bragging rights in the Italian capital.
Fire outside the Olimpico
Sparks didn’t wait for the game to start to start flying all over the place. A full-scale general disorder broke outside the famous stadium as the two sets of supporters clashed not only with each other, but also with the police. Injuries on all three sides were reported, with bottles and other potentially dangerous objects flying all over the place.
Football rivalries are a great feature of the game, giving it that extra bit of passion that everyone loves so much, but clear limits should be set and not crossed. Going to a football match should not represent a risk for one’s life or physical well-being.
Banter is not only acceptable, it could said that it’s welcome in the game. Violence is not.
Fire in the game
There were several situations of conflict in the game itself. Zaccagni had spats with several Roma players, Lazio winger Pedro got into a heated exchange with one of the Roma coaches who was consequently sent off, in addition to head coach Jose Mourinho being suspended already.
Such incidents are a regular feature of this fixture and it’s never easy for the officials to stay in control. In a most unwise turn of events after the final whistle, Lazio right-back Adam Marusic taunted Roma midfielder Bryan Cristante who reacted hotly, and both players were shown the red card. It may have not meant anything for the scoreline of this game, but their respective coaches will surely miss them significantly when they get to putting their squads together for upcoming fixtures.
Big calls made right
They may not have made Roma fans happy, but the two really big calls made by the officials were correct. Having booked Roger Ibanez for stopping a Lazio attack with a tactical foul in the eight minute, referee Davide Massa had absolutely no choice but to repeat his call when the Roma defender repeated his offence in the 32nd, which, of course, meant the game was over for Ibanez and Roma were to play two thirds of the match with 10 men.
Only two minutes after Zaccagni’s decisive goal, Roma players and their fans believed the score was back level after Lazio defender Nicolo Casale clumsily sent the ball into his own net. However, the replay showed that Chris Smalling, who was involved directly and touched the ball, was offside in the buildup, and the goal was rightly disallowed.
Zaccagni may have scored the only goal of the game and brought victory for his team, but the decisive moment of the contest was arguably the second booking of Ibanez. Lazio did have more of the ball before, but Roma had their moments as well and the contest was fairly balanced. However, once they were down to 10 men, the Giallorossi simply couldn’t match their city rivals anymore.
At halftime, Paulo Dybala was left in the dressing room to make way for Diego Llorente, sacrificed as the Roma coaches stuck with the three-at-the-back system without Ibanez. That meant relinquishing some of the attacking potential and ability to hold the ball in the opposition half, and focusing mostly on keeping a clean sheet if possible.
As it turned out, it wasn’t meant to be. Lazio gradually turned up the volume and tightened the ring around Rui Patricio’s goal, and Zaccagni eventually broke down the left to put the ball into the far bottom corner, forcing Roma to throw their complete plan up to that point out the window. The goal came in the 65th minute, and 13 minutes later, Llorente was probably surprised to see his number on the board, having come on from the bench at halftime, making way for Stephan El Shaarawy.
The 30-year-old winger is known for having a lot of skill in his locker and certainly capable of producing special moments with the ball at his feet, so it made sense at this point to let him try and work something up, but he was barely noticed at all.
In the end, it was a deserved victory for Maurizio Sarri’s team, with everything that happened between the first and the final whistle taken into account, but it’s hard to shake off the feeling that it would’ve been a different story had Roma played the whole game with 11 men.
With these three points, Lazio have moved ahead of Inter Milan in the Serie A table and are currently closest to league leaders Napoli, though that gap stands 19 points wide. Places four, five and six remain unchanged – AC Milan with 48 points, Roma with 47 and Atalanta with 45, but there could yet be a surprise entry in the top-four race.
Juventus are the team that beat Inter and helped Lazio move up, and having suffered a 15-point deduction, they’re now seventh, only four points behind Atalanta. The Bianconeri have now won seven of the last eight Serie A matches; they’ve obviously taken the task of making up for the lost ground very seriously.
Speaking of Juventus, Lazio will face Massimiliano Allegri’s team soon, but before that, they have to come back from Monza with at least something in their bags. As for Roma, the period enclosing the second half of April and the first half of May is likely to prove crucial. That’s when they play Atalanta, Milan and Inter.