Entertainment is one word pretty easily associative with any cross-town derby and when the two sides from the city of Rome collide in a Serie A season, they perfectly define what rivalry in football is all about. The event, considering its historical background and the apparent animosity between the two sets of fans, is often more than just a battleground of tactics and skills. Pride is at stake for both the clubs and irrespective of their league standing, the intensity of this clash remains intact – every single time.
On Sunday, things were no different and with a certain Zdenek Zeman now in charge of Roma, the derby was always expected to be highly eventful and so it was. In quite a characteristic manner, Roma took an early lead once more courtesy an Erik Lamela header from a Totti corner and even more characteristically wasted little time in squandering that effort. A misjudged positioning from Roma custodian Mauro Goicoechea allowed the powerfully taken free kick from Antonio Candreva to restore parity to the game and soon after that, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, Roma continued to show defensive frailty and a striker of Miroslav Klose’s calibre is never going to be forgiving those errors. The veteran German put the virtual hosts in front near the stroke of half-time as he managed to outsmart his markers inside the box. Things were only aggravated for Roma in the final minute of the first half as midfield general Daniele De Rossi was given his marching orders for an elbowed challenge on Stefano Mauri.
It can be argued that pitch did influence the result of the game as rain-soaked surface made it increasingly difficult for the ball to move on the ground. Roma play an aesthetic style of football that heavily relies on ground passing and the very process of passing the ball was greatly affected due to the conditions of the pitch. Lazio were comfortable playing long balls and Roma clearly lacked an alternative plan. Mauri instilled a two-goal lead scoring the third for Biancocelesti early in the second half capitalizing on an error from Ivan Piris. Opportunities for Roma were few and far between and Lazio were pretty organized in their own half blocking channels for the Roma midfield. Osvaldo missed an open header that could have brought Roma back into the game but apart from that the Giallorossi were mostly listless in the second half. The numerical disadvantage was settled for the final few minutes as Mauri was sent off earning the second yellow of the game. From the consequent free-kick, Pjanic got Roma the second with a wonderful effort. However, Lazio managed to hold on to the thin lead for the five remaining minutes to register their third consecutive derby win over the bitter rivals.
This loss should surprise the followers of Roma the least who have observed their defensive troubles under Zeman. The topsy-turvy nature of their season does not seem to end any time soon and there are many areas of concern to be immediately addressed should the club want to salvage any hopes of Champions League qualification next season. The win puts Lazio back in command again after a series of dismal performances in last three games. But all said and done, outscoring a Zeman team must not make them overconfident of their abilities.
The derby however was not the only interesting contest from the weekend. As many as 34 goals were scored over the two days and naturally some scintillating football was played. Champions Juventus, after their unbeaten run being put to an end last week by Inter have come back stronger than ever and victimized of their ruthlessness were the newly promoted Pescara. Juventus executed a total demolition of Pescara in their own den scoring 6 past the hosts. Fabio Quagliarella made a grand return scoring three on the night. The Italian forward has a knack of scoring the most dazzling of goals and on Saturday he enthralled the fans with a perfectly weighted overhead kick that left everyone in the stadium in awe.
The problems that the Juventus front-line is facing have been well documented and after this splendid showing, Quagliarella will now certainly be knocking on Conte’s doors to be given a higher precedence in the pecking order. Juventus have so far always started Mirko Vucinic in the big games but the Montenegrin has had a very mediocre season and before Juventus go for some shopping in winter, it shouldn’t surprise the fans if Quagliarella is seen starting more games for the champions.
The joy of their astounding performance was doubled exactly a day later for Juventus as arch rivals Inter who managed to narrow down the deficit to a solitary point with their win in Turin, were finally beaten after their ten game winning streak in all competitions by the season’s surprise package Atalanta. The visit to Bergamo finally put an end to the all-conquering run of Inter as the visitors were edged out in a 3-2 defeat. Inter started off better but failed to convert any of their chances whereas Atalanta did not waste the first scoring opportunity that came their way putting Inter on the back foot. The second half was action packed and both teams scored two goals apiece but that was not enough for Inter to earn even a single point. They now trail Juventus by four points but still hold on to the second spot on the table.
City rivals AC Milan continued with what has been an absolutely abysmal season for them. After generating some false hopes among fans with their 5-1 win over Chievo last weekend, Milan were once again outplayed at San Siro – this time by Vincenzo Montella led Fiorentina. Former Milan midfielder Alberto Aquilani, who was deemed surplus to requirements despite decent performances during last season, took no time in making his presence felt at the stadium, this time representing different colours. His goal allowed Fiorentina take complete charge of the game and the lead was doubled in the first half itself when Valero totally outclassed Mexes inside the box. Pato had a golden opportunity to bring Milan back in the game but his effort from the spot must have finally allowed Sergio Ramos to relax after being mocked at nearly for half a year. Milan did pull one back in the second half but conceded the third in the final minutes of the play committing one man too many forward in their desperate quest to find an equalizer. Milan now having lost six of their eleven games already find themselves 13th on the table while Fiorentina – serious contenders for a European spot – are currently occupying the fourth slot trailing Inter by only 3 points.
Speaking of the European spot, Napoli inched closer to the second position with their dramatic win over Genoa and now are only a point behind Inter. Trailing the hosts for the major part of the game, Napoli were in for a late drama as not only did they find the equalizer after being 2-1 down at the 80th minute, but found two more during the stoppage time to completely destroy all hopes of the Genoa faithful at Luigi Ferraris. Having lost five games on the trot, Genoa are now in the relegation zone while the win should bring Napoli back the lost confidence which saw their form go haywire after the defeat to Juventus in Turin.
It seems late drama was the order of the day as the game between Chievo and Udinese too ended on a highly exciting note. The score was tied at 1-1 as the clock was ticking towards the end of play but Chievo were awarded a penalty in the 89th minute which was converted by substitute Alberto Paloschi. However, much like he did towards the end of first half, Gabriele Angella once again managed to neutralize the scoreline with his goal only a minute after Udinese were left trailing. It was one of those odd days where Antonio Di Natale failed to put his name on the score-sheet.
Another insipid performance from Sampdoria saw them lose for the seventh time in running as Palermo got the better of them with a 2-0 win in Sicily. The victory should give coach Gasperini a breather given the reputation of club president Maurizio Zamparini. Bologna have now experienced their eighth loss of the season as they were handed a 1-0 defeat by Torino courtesy a goal from Danilo D’Ambrosio. Parma-Siena and Cagliari-Catania were two games ending with neither of the teams troubling the scorers. This was in complete contrast to the enticing display of football that was on exhibition from the rest of the teams over the weekend.
Next weekend, two more big games are lined up as Juventus host Lazio while Milan travel to face Napoli at San Paolo. The league is very interestingly poised at this stage and next few weeks will be very crucial in deciding what shape the title race takes.