Serie A

Lazio reignite Champions League race with dominant victory in Rome derby

Max Cooper
Jan 16, 2021, 6:15 PM GMT
The Eagles soared to victory against AS Roma on Friday night
The Eagles soared to victory against AS Roma on Friday night | MB Media/Getty Images

Rome is - for the time being - blue.

Friday night bore witness to the showpiece Derby della Capitale in Italy, where SS Lazio welcomed bitter rivals AS Roma into their shared home for what was expected to be a hard-fought, nervy occasion.

Instead, le Aquile, then in eighth place in the table, six points behind their visitors, battered I Giallorossi by three goals to nil in one of the most one-sided Rome derbies in history, while simultaneously reigniting the hotly-contested battle for the top four spots in Serie A.

As far as derbies go, it was as straightforward as you could possibly imagine from start to finish for the Eagles.

Coach Simone Inzaghi demonstrated exactly why he is being tipped as a possible future Juventus or even Italy manager, setting up his side in a manner which completely flummoxed the out-thought and out-fought Roma players.

Inzaghi inspired Lazio to an impressive victory
Inzaghi inspired Lazio to an impressive victory | Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images

The match was won on Lazio's right flank, and lost on Roma's left. Giallorossi coach Paulo Fonseca made the decision to release Leonardo Spinazzola of all his defensive duties, hoping that his attacking threat would pin le Aquile back and nullify their own dangers.

But Inzaghi called Fonseca's bluff, deploying the rapid Manuel Lazzari high up the pitch on their right flank, and allowing Spinazzola all the space he could desire in behind his marker.

Unfortunately for Roma, Lazzari was far more potent than his national compatriot on that wing, and he took advantage of the space he was afforded, causing left-sided centre-back Roger Ibanez to produce a performance that will go down in history in this grand old derby.

The Brazilian defender was caught day-dreaming in possession in his own penalty area by Lazzari, who charged down his hurried clearance, allowing Ciro Immobile to stroke home with all the time in the world.

If that 14th minute sucker-punch knocked the stuffing out of Roma, then they were sent to the canvas unconscious by the 23rd minute. Another Giallorossi corner was converted into a Lazio counter-attack, and Lazzari was encouraged to tear down the right flank completely unopposed, glide past a treacle-trapped Ibanez, and pull the ball back for Luis Alberto to place perfectly into the bottom corner.

It was surgical and clinical from the hosts, who never looked fazed from thereon in. In fact, they restricted a Roma side chasing the game for 75 minutes, to only one shot on target, and two wide of the goal.

Inzaghi's three-man backline matched the trident of Lorenzo Pellegrini, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Edin Dzeko man-to-man, forcing the trio to drop deeper and deeper in search of possession and glimpses of joy - which never arrived.

Lazio put the game to bed on 67 minutes, when Alberto rounded off a 22-pass move which involved the contribution of all 11 players, highlighting the vast gulf in class between the two sides on the night.

It was disciplined and ruthless from Inzaghi's men, who fully deserved the glory and three points on a special evening in Rome. But there were far more than just bragging rights up for grabs at Stadio Olimpico.

Victory for Roma would have seen supporters dreaming of an unexpected scudetto challenge, while a Lazio loss may well have crushed their plans to regain Champions League football next season. As it happened, I Giallorossi have been left glancing nervously over their shoulders, while le Aquile charged back into top-four contention.

That's football for you.

Old friends reunited
Old friends reunited | Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

While Roma and Lazio's seasons turned on their heads on Friday, Juventus and Inter supporters await their heavily-anticipated reunion on Sunday evening. This match up is known as the Derby d'Italia - the derby of Italy - so as far as contests go, this one is up there.

Inter may boast a mathematical lead, but Juve will always enjoy the psychological edge. I Bianconeri were being ruled out of the title race prior to their mammoth clash with Milan, but a six-point return from I Rossoneri and Sassuolo has thrust them back into the mix.

There is a giant black and white shadow looming over the shoulders of Italy's current leaders, and it has that all-too familiar feeling of inevitability. This shadow is swallowing up everything before it, and if history is anything to go by, it won't stop until it has consumed everything in its path.

That journey started at San Siro against Milan, and it could either continue its march or come to an abrupt end in the same stadium against Antonio Conte's side. Inter themselves are in the thick of the scudetto battle, and were absolutely flying until two slip ups in as many matches brought them back down to earth.

Inter had won eight Serie A fixtures on the bounce before stumbling to a shock 2-1 defeat to Sampdoria, and then throwing away a late lead to draw 2-2 with Roma in the Italian capital. Those disappointments have left them three points behind Milan at the Serie A summit, and they can't afford many more setbacks if they hope to topple I Rossoneri.

But these are just a handful of a cluster of top Serie A sides all jostling for title and European glory. Atalanta and SSC Napoli are sandwiched between Juventus and Lazio in the table, while early dark horses Sassuolo are still in with a shout in eighth place.

The big boys
The big boys | MIGUEL MEDINA/Getty Images

The top half of Serie A has rarely been this competitive, and even with the halfway stage of the season fast approaching, we are still no nearer to understanding where any side is likely to finish come May.

Whatever happens, there will be pure chaos over the next five months, and we can't wait for it all to unfold.