The two Rome-based teams arrive at the Derby separated by two points and, considering also Inter and Milan’s inconsistencies, the result of this game might be pivotal for the final outcome of the Champions League race.
Serie A Week 27 – Sunday 19 March 2023 – Stadio Olimpico | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Lazio didn’t manage to find a way to perforate Bologna last week, and they were actually closer to losing than winning, failing to snatch a potentially massive victory in the fray to make the top four given the missteps for the other contenders. But the Felsinei tend to take it to anybody, and they were coming off three strong performances, which takes a toll, especially when injuries and fatigue pile up. Knocking down Napoli took a lot out of them, which showed in the ensuing matches, especially in Europe, which wasn’t exactly their priority, to put it kindly.
Atalanta fell off lately and will need to go on a run to re-enter the conversation. The other three teams vying for the three spots are all somewhat flawed, but the Biancocelesti might be the most emotionally stable of the bunch. Even with the asterisk of Juventus’ point-deduction, it would be a monumental achievement. The club that comes up short will be left reeling. On top of the prestige, the Champions League prize money will be a boon for the transfer market strategies of cash-strapped sides.
The deputy striker role has been a sore spot for multiple seasons and, naturally, Ciro Immobile is dealing with a thigh strain ahead of the biggest game of the season. There’s still a chance for a miraculous comeback but just for a token appearance. They have gotten used to not having him at this point since he has been very banged up, but his absence is still extremely hurtful. He can solve any contest in a jiff with the right cut through the middle. He, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Luis Alberto have incredible chemistry and perfect timing. Felipe Anderson has been serviceable enough as a false-nine for it not to be a huge problem, but he interprets the role differently and doesn’t put similar pressure on opposing defenders. It’s a simple matter of trait. The Brazilian is at his best with the ball on his feet, while the Azzurri star is so masterful without it.
Even though they had some rotation due to injuries and suspension, they have generally been very good in the back, they actually lead the league in clean sheets with some margin, so they can knock down opponents with just one or two goals. While they don’t look so formidable on paper and sometimes wobble when hit hard, they have perfected the ultra-modern style of defending having the ball a lot and controlling the pace, normally keeping it pretty low. The rearguard is under pressure only when their game plan goes pear-shaped. They are usually even-keeled, and, if they keep it that way despite all that goes into this clash, they’ll have excellent chances of coming out on top since the Giallorossi adversaries are on the other end of the spectrum from such standpoint.
Other than the AZ matches, they have had a good run of success lately, but they have room to grow because a few of their top players have been underperforming. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has dipped considerably after the World Cup. He busts his tail defensively, so he’s contributing even when he’s not scoring or assisting, especially with his immaculate ball handling in tough situations, but more presence and production in the final third wouldn’t hurt. Matteo Zaccagni has also stopped hitting the net in the last few games, even though his level of activity and dangerousness has stayed the same. Luis Alberto and Pedro have done the heavy lifting lately. They’d be nearly unstoppable if all their top players were humming at the same time, and maybe that will happen without midweek fixtures, which are clearly a nuisance for them.
They won’t have Matias Vecino due to a suspension, so Danilo Cataldi will anchor the midfield, as he has done for most of the campaign. Using the Uruguayan veteran there was a great strategic tweak versus Napoli, as he raised their level of hustle and physicality there, while the teammate is more of a distributor. Elseid Hysaj was out midweek due to a minor injury. It remains to be seen whether it was just a precaution or something more serious. He has often played over Manuel Lazzari in recent matches to have more balance.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Provedel; Marusic, Casale, Romagnoli, Hysaj; Milinkovic-Savic, Cataldi, Alberto; Pedro, Felipe Anderson, Zaccagni.
Injury Report: Vecino (suspension); Immobile (thigh strain) – doubtful; Hysaj (back soreness) – probable.
José Mourinho constantly waging war against everybody has more positives than negatives, as it generally rallies the troops and properly motivates them. However, the drawbacks were manifest in the Sassuolo game, where everybody was more focused on protesting against the league and the referee than on combating an opponent that was in great shape and in fact bested them with the help of some fortuitous episodes. They could have remedied it, but Roma were already in a hole before Marash Kumbulla’s boneheaded kick to Domenico Berardi in the box.
It feels like the Champions League competitors have yet to realize that every single point is precious in such a tight battle royale. Some slip-ups are natural and inevitable, but self-inflicted wounds are unacceptable and could easily turn out to be costly. The Giallorossi were down several attackers due to injury Sunday, but their issues were in the back, which was the sign that their attention was off. Gianluca Mancini was spared to avoid a suspension for yellow-card accumulation, but that shouldn’t be enough to throw the whole defense to capsize, even though Kumbulla clearly isn’t up to the task. Their expensive transfer market blunders become ever more damaging since they tightened the belt later on.
Resting Paulo Dybala also sent the wrong message, even though he has to be handled with care due to his delicate muscles. In the end, such match seemed like an afterthought among the Special One’s antics, the Europa League fixtures, and the Derby just around the corner, and that’s exactly how they played. But you can’t do that against any side in Serie A, let alone a worthy one, and they should have known better since they have been the only ones that lose to Cremonese.
The Giallorossi can beat anybody when everything is on point, but they can also be defeated in any match when that’s not the case. Who has the better roster between them and Lazio is actually a nice debate, but missing out on a top-four finish would be more disappointing for them than for their crosstown rivals for a series of factors. And it could have massive ramifications too, since Mourinho has just one year on his contract and the future of several players hangs in the balance. In normal circumstances, the boss and the club would need to agree to an extension to stick together next season. But they tend to be an anomaly, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he stayed as a lame duck.
The injury crisis has subsided since Lorenzo Pellegrini, Andrea Belotti, and Ola Solbakken will be available for this one, even though in less-than-ideal conditions. The captain has rarely strung together a few matches in a row where he was completely healthy, which has impacted his performances. Even though he hasn’t been great this season, it’s very noticeable when he’s missing as the feeds for the strikers dry up.
Two recent developments could lift La Lupa down the stretch. Leonardo Spinazzola has been his best self after another challenging season from the physical standpoint. Few wingbacks can be as influential as he is when he’s in peak form, as he’s a true difference-maker and a fantastic creator. In addition, Georginio Wijnaldum is finally available. Even though he scored, his performance against Sassuolo was rather forgettable. Still, they are absolutely starving for star power so, even if he’s just 50 percent of the player he was before the injury, that’d still be good enough for them. His versatility is an asset too.
Mourinho surprised Juventus by going without a pure striker, and Tammy Abraham’s recent performances don’t make him a must-start player, even though his energy and hard work are useful even when he’s not scoring. They can easily go in such direction with two among Pellegrini, Wijnaldum, and Stephan El Shaarawy, who has arguably been their best contributor lately, behind Dybala. On the other hand, while nobody saw it coming a couple of weeks ago, Maurizio Sarri would be wary of this solution.
It’s not an appealing stratagem, but they have had their best performances and results when they let the opponents have the ball, parked the bus, and tried to score with extemporaneous plays like set pieces or counter-attacks. It can be very effective if done with the maximum level of concentration. They’ll face a team that’s very willing to pull the strings, but it’d be an error to welcome the pressure and sit back too much because the opponents have a lot of weapons and inventiveness.
Expected XI (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Mancini, Smalling, Ibanez; Zalewski, Cristante, Matic, Spinazzola; Dybala, Pellegrini; Abraham.
Doubts: Matic/Wijnaldum, Abraham/El Shaarawy.
Injury Report: Kumbulla (suspension); Matic (illness) – probable; Llorente (thigh injury) – probable; Solbakken (thigh injury) – probable; Karsdorp (nose fracture) – doubtful.
Draw – Under 2.5 Goals