Separated by just two points and two places in the Serie A standings, capital city rivals Lazio and Roma clash at Stadio Olimpico on Sunday evening.
The 180th Derby della Capitale sees the Biancocelesti – who crashed out of Europe in midweek – leading the teams’ tussle in the table, but victory would help Jose Mourinho’s men climb back into the top four at their expense.
Suffering their second 2-1 defeat to AZ in the space of a week, Lazio bowed out of the Europa Conference League to the Eredivisie side on Thursday night, at the competition’s last-16 stage.
While hardly ideal preparation for Sunday’s Rome Derby, the Biancocelesti now have no more ‘distractions’ in their pursuit of a Champions League return next season – and Roma are one of their fellow competitors in the top-four race.
European ill-fortune aside, not only have Maurizio Sarri’s men beaten leaders Napoli and drawn with Bologna in their last two league games, but they have lost just one of their last 10 to move up to third place in the standings.
During that spell, they have kept six clean sheets, including shut-outs in each of their last four Serie A fixtures. All told, they have recorded an impressive 15 in the top flight this season, and only Barcelona (19) have tallied more throughout Europe’s top five leagues.
In Bologna, their defensive discipline saw them set a new club record for clean sheets away from home, and they will now aim to take such resilience into this weekend’s Eternal City showpiece.
Having won November’s reverse fixture thanks to Felipe Anderson’s decisive strike, Lazio can do the double over Roma for the first time since 2011-12. Recent history suggests they can do so, having gone unbeaten in their last five league derbies as the ‘home’ side.
Indeed, the last Roma win as the ‘away’ team in this fixture was back in 2016, and they will be desperate to end that drought on Sunday for more than one reason.
In addition to getting one over on their oldest foes, the Giallorossi need more precious points as they are trailing behind in the top-four fight, which comprises five clubs battling for three spots behind champions-elect Napoli.
Much like Sarri’s impact since arriving at the Olimpico, Jose Mourinho has also gradually instilled some grit in a previously flaky side, and his team have not suffered back-to-back losses in Serie A since January of last year. However, after defeat to Sassuolo last time out in the league, that could now happen at the hands of Lazio.
After losing to last-placed Cremonese – also their Coppa Italia conquerors – and then beating Juventus, they came out second best in an eventful encounter with the Emilian side. Already trailing 2-1 when Marash Kumbulla was dismissed, the 10-man Giallorossi were given hope by Paulo Dybala’s wonderful second-half strike, but that hope was crushed by conceding a fourth goal later on to ultimately lose 4-2.
By contrast with their city rivals, though, Roma’s recent success in continental competition continued on Thursday, and after holding Real Sociedad goalless in San Sebastian to progress 2-0 on aggregate, they have followed last year’s Europa Conference League triumph with a place in the last eight of the Europa League.
While there is now a short turnaround before tackling the Derby della Capitale, such a result can only bolster confidence in the camp before one of the grandest games in the Calcio calendar.
Lazio Serie A form:
Lazio form (all competitions):
Roma Serie A form:
Roma form (all competitions):
We say: Lazio 1-0 Roma
Both coaches have cited concerns over fatigue following their European exploits, but the two teams have had a similar workload in that regard. It may, therefore, be a cautious encounter decided by a single goal, and Lazio’s ability to keep the back door shut could tip the balance in their favour.