As if it needed it, the Derby acquires even more meaning considering the recent subpar showings of the two teams, their positions on the table, and the potential ramifications as far as the rest of the season is concerned.
Serie A Week 12 – Sunday 11 November 2023 – Stadio Olimpico | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Lazio seemed to have gained pace thanks to three victories in a row, including two outstanding ones versus Atalanta and Fiorentina, but they fell on their faces again in the Bologna game. It’ll take another winning streak for them to get closer to the positions they aim for. They’ll probably get there as a few high-flying minnows will regress to the mean, but they have to solve a few issues.
Other than the dud versus Feyenoord on the road, which was no small thing, they might have fixed a few things in the back. Their lousiness there was inexplicable, considering they led the League in clean sheets in the past campaign, and the rearguard stayed intact after the summer. While Nicolò Casale wasn’t as good as in the recent past, it wasn’t enough to justify their nosedive.
They cleaned up some blunders and fortified the midfield, as one or two among Matteo Guendouzi, Matias Vecino, and Danilo Cataldi start in each game, mostly at the expense of Daichi Kamada, which is unfortunate, but the all-technical midfield isn’t sturdy enough yet, and Niccolò Rovella and obviously Luis Alberto are less expendable than the Japanese newcomer. A little more rotation or earlier subs to keep everybody fresh and involved wouldn’t hurt. They might pay the price for that in this very game since a pair of linchpins are banged up.
It’s interesting that Maurizio Sarri has preferred beefing up that department rather than leaning more on Elseid Hysaj over Manuel Lazzari at right-back. That’s generally his crutch when he wants a more robust formation, but the former SPAL star has been one of their most consistent contributors. Moreover, while the Albanian defender is a more conservative choice, he doesn’t always live up to the task concentration-wise.
A couple more clean sheets in big spots would attest to their return to form there, but they have had significant shortcomings on the other end too. Ciro Immobile has been the umbrella that caught flack for everybody, and his numbers are indeed paltry. Still, it’s not as if he bagged 30 goals in 2022/2023, nor has Taty Castellanos been markedly better, even though his exuberance always provides a spark.
While the center-forward should naturally lead the way scoring-wise, they were fueled by the production of the wingers while at the peak of their powers in the previous season. Felipe Anderson and Mattia Zaccagni are generally lively, but for one reason or the other, they have combined for just two goals, which is baffling since they both reached the double-digit threshold last year. It’s especially stunning for the Italian attacker, who went backward after taking the final step toward superstardom. It can’t all be chalked up to poor aim. Their frontline isn’t as fluid and well-oiled as in the recent past. Perhaps it’s because the opponents have studied them better or simply poor form, but something is missing. Still, it would be least surprising if one of the two went on a tear in the near future.
What’s surely lacking is the output of the midfielders in the final third. It’s not a great look if Matias Vecino, who’s not a full-time starter, is the one who scored the most along with Alberto. Matteo Guendouzi has generally been excellent, but he doesn’t have the traits to properly replace Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. They knew that beforehand and were perhaps hoping they could make it work sooner with Kamada, who has more goals in him, or that rejiggering other stuff would be enough to compensate. While their strategy to spread the dough around rather than make a single splash was sound, they have missed the Serb tremendously in both phases and from a leadership standpoint. Reducing all their woes to that would be simplistic, but it’s one of the main factors.
There’s no way to remedy that, and they can find new reference points and get their weapons going now, as the majority of them haven’t fared to the best of their capabilities. There’s plenty of time to make up ground on the standings, and they might have the most room for improvement out of anybody not currently in the top three.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Provedel; Lazzari, Patric, Romagnoli, Marusic; Guendouzi, Rovella, Alberto; Felipe Anderson, Immobile, Pedro.
Doubts: Marusic/Hysaj, Rovella/Vecino, Pedro/Zaccagni,
Injury Report: Zaccagni (knee injury) – Questionable; Marusic (knock), Casale (thigh strain) – Probable.
The late-game heroics against Lecce and Monza make Roma almost one of the hottest teams in the league result-wise. They tried to ugly it up versus Inter, and they almost pulled it off, as a narrow loss to the best team in the League is almost an achievement. Yet, probably because their latest victories have looked a bit random, or the recent stumble versus Slavia Prague, the general sentiment isn’t that of a team in particularly great form, and it feels like they always need to go the extra mile to come out on top, which doesn’t feel sustainable.
Yet, things should be on the up-and-up, as they have made it out of their injury crisis, although, given the history of some of their players, they’ll continue to be hit by the bug here and there, but, hopefully for them, not as severely as they had in recent weeks. Paulo Dybala looked splendid in his return, Renato Sanches worked his way back, and Lorenzo Pellegrini and Leonardo Spinazzola are set to be options for this one, making them almost whole if it wasn’t for Chris Smalling’s lingering tendon problem. There’s not much he or they can do about that, and asking somebody to play hurt, even if the issue isn’t at risk of getting worse, would be ill-advised and detrimental, as he wasn’t his usual self in the matches before getting shut down.
Diego Llorente is serviceable, and while Evan N’Dicka hasn’t been great and might not be as good as advertised, at least he got plenty of reps and is starting to get a little more comfortable. Not signing another defender quickly came back to haunt them. The house of cards will crumble again if somebody else picks up a knock or a suspension. Fortunately for them, they have Bryan Cristante, who’s not flashy or super impactful, but he’s an ironman and can play all over on the pitch. And they did fine with their midfield depth.
It might not be a coincidence that they have come through in late-game situations, not just because José Mourinho is a master motivator. They have looked a lot better when they threw caution out of the window and fielded a bunch of attackers together, doing away with their usual cageyness. Their general posture might be holding them back a little. They are built for 3-5-2 or something similar, but they’d have the horses to zhuzh it up tactically if they wished to. A few key contributors would benefit if they opened things up a little and upped the tempo. But it’s farfetched to believe they will indeed do it regularly, and the Special One might be perfectly fine with routinely scoring after the 90th minute.
The Giallorossi have pretty much remedied their hellish start, as they are in seventh position, two points shy of Atalanta and four of Napoli. If they had loftier ambitions, they were too optimistic and should have backed it with larger summer investments. Their Financial Fair Play situation is worse than other sides, but nobody uses it as an excuse as much as they do. To their credit, they navigated it brilliantly, but it was still rather constraining.
They have clawed back, but staying where they are, or ideally getting a little higher, will be an equally hard challenge. The worst thing that could happen to them is missing out on the fifth spot, should it be worth a Champions League berth as likely this season. This kind of game doesn’t require extra motivation, but beating one of the few direct rivals for it would go a long way toward reaching their goal.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Patricio; Mancini, Llorente, Ndicka; Karsdorp, Cristante, Paredes, Aouar, Spinazzola; Lukaku, Dybala.
Doubts: Aouar/Renato Sanches, Aouar/Bove, Spinazzola/El Shaarawy.
Injury Report: Spinazzola, Pellegrini (thigh injuries), Zalewski (illness) – Probable; Smalling (knee tendonitis), Abraham, Kumbulla (ACL tears) – Out.
Draw – Under 2.5 Goals