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  16/10/2011: "Tonight is a night when heroes are made"
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The Derby della Capitale - no words can describe the emotions that are embedded into the occasion but one can try regardless.

This evening's affair will be the 168th encounter with Lazio looking to register their 46th win while Roma go in search of number 63. These numbers are merely that; numbers, and stats will count for absolutely nothing as midnight approaches in Rome. One set of fans could walk the streets with broad smiles, waving flags and with perhaps the odd tear or two strolling down a cheek or two. The others could saunter home dejected, dwelling on what could have been, mulling on the game's various turning points, bad decisions, missed opportunities and even fallen heroes. The worst case scenario for both fans is a stalemate. No fan in a derby has aspirations for a share of the spoils. Such is the importance of these games.

On Friday, Sir Alex Ferguson came in for a bit of stick by suggesting in his pre-match press conference that the Manchester - Liverpool derby is the greatest in sport, rivalled only by Glasgow - Rangers. It was a statement that did not rest easy with me. His argument was that the close geographical proximity and comparable successes between the two teams was what made it special. If that is the case, then it cannot hold a torch to the Derby della Capitale. Laziali and Romanisti breathe the same air, they walk the same streets, they even eat at the same tables. It is the intensity and emotion driven by these every-day situations that makes the Rome derby the most special football game on the planet. I would go that far.

For Lazio fans, there have been a multitude of talking points and the game has yet to begin. The most significant of these is obviously the five successive losses, four of which have been suffered under the reign of Edy Reja. The most pessimistic of the bunch will claim that defeat is already inevitable but in the depths of their hearts, they believe. They simply have to. The last time Roma won five in a row was between 1958-1960. Over the course of those five games, they were steered to victory by Argentine striker Pedro Manfredini who racked up five goals in the two-year period. This evening, Roma's hopes will be firmly pinned on another Argentine-born hope, Pablo Osvaldo. He scored on his last outing for Roma and seems to be coming into form. He has been naturalised as an Italian by Cesare Prandelli in the past week and, in Totti's absence, he is probably the greatest threat to the Lazio defense.

A sixth derby win in a row is actually unprecedented. The Lazio squad of 1960 managed to prevent that unthinkable fate with a 2-1 win. Lazio's recent history with Roma is a rot that the current players will be very determined to stop. However, the current run that Roma are on is tainted in comparison to their charge in the Manfredini era. They've managed nine goals in their last five wins but five of those have come from the penalty spot. The previous derby in particular was worrying as Paolo Tagliavento greatly influenced the game with incredibly poor decision making. His reappoinyment as referee has sparked an outcry already with commentator Guido De Angelis hinting that there is a conspiracy against Lazio and he is not alone. After all, this referee caused somebody out there to mock-up a Corriere dello Sport article suggesting that Tagliavento had been signed by Roma, handed with a contract based on his ability to distribute the side with cheap penalties. Eyes will be on Tagliavento like never before tonight. Will he feel the Laziali wrath and succumb to the pressure or will apparent favouritism rear its ugly head again?

On the technical front, there are a gazillion of questions that need to be raised. Firstly, both teams are returning from a two-week break from the league as key international fixtures disrupted the current campaign. Lazio are not used to having so many players on international duty. Miroslav Klose linked up with Germany as he has done for ten years now while Hernanes seems to be finding his feet with Brazil. Djibril Cissé was called-up for France following a significant absence from the setup while Lorik Cana and Marius Stankevicius were captaining Albania and Lithuania respectively. It is unlikely that the latter duo will feature but the aforementioned threesome are almost certainly our favoured attack. In one hand, they should be buoyed and determined by their feats at international level but on the other hand, fatigue levels must be a cause for concern. Cissé should be fine, but Hernanes has played a plethora of games in the last two years and clocking up air miles certainly does not help our cause while Klose came back injured. Probably not hurt enough to miss one of the most important club games of his career but perhaps in bad enough shape to not last the full ninety. In recent games, that fate would have cost us points.

Similarly, Edy Reja has big calls to make with Stefano Mauri, Giuseppe Biava and Andre Dias. Dias' problem appears minor and he should be fine to start but Biava has been out for a while and may find the increased physical and mental strain of the derby to be quite draining. Diakité is a more than useful stand-in but his excitability and general unpredictability is not best suited for this fixture. Mauri has been out for almost a month and getting ninety minutes out of him is surely impossible. However, his presence in the field is critical and Reja needs to decide whether he wants to risk further injury by squeezing 60-70 minutes out of him or should he throw him on for a quick cameo if the all is still to play for in the second half. Big, big call.

Of course, Roma have the same issues with their squad but their injury concerns seem a bit more serious. That is a disadvantage in that they cannot get their best eleven on the pitch for any period of time but that also makes Luis Enrique's decision-making process that bit easier and essentially, they could be and should be better prepared when the whistle is initially blown.

The other huge call for Lazio is Tommaso Rocchi. He has been out of sorts so far this season and in all honesty, he has been off colour for 2-3 years now. His legs are going as age finally catches up with him and ever since he fractured his leg at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, he has never looked the same player. In saying that, he is chasing his 100th goal for Lazio and is a great option to bring on in attack at any given moment. Reja has been often criticised for being too cautious in his approach to games but he has been praised for being an incredible motivator. Nobody will be more motivated to get on the scoresheet than Rocchi but at the same time, Reja needs to make gutsy, risky calls. Leaving Rocchi out on the one night that everyone wants to see him play may seal his fate with the Lazio faithful but a failure to snatch the win when playing him over someone else will not go down well with some. Reja will struggle to win with Rocchi unless the club icon features and etches his name into Derby della Capitale history once again. It is hardly an unreasonable thought; over 5% of Rocchi's goals in bianoceleste have come against Roma.

When Totti made his usual jibes during the week, suggesting that Edy Reja was Roma's good luck charm, it was Rocchi who leapt to the coach's defense. Personally, I was disappointed. I want Tommaso to do the talking on the field and for Edy Reja to ultimately prove he is a talismanic figure for Lazio. At the end of the day, this game is more than just a derby; it is a date with redemption for those who have been falling short of the expected standard. For that reason, I want Reja to field Rocchi and ideally, I want Tommaso to bag the winner. That would be the cherry on the top of a sky-blue cake but more importantly, it would provide the romanticism we all want to feel wooed by on the night. At the same time, I cannot condone fielding the bald eagle for too long. Reja needs to find the right balance. This derby is all about balance.

A draw has widely been suggested with a select number of critics leaning towards a Lazio victory. Considering that both sides are equal on points for the current season and that Lazio just edged out Roma on the league table last season, it is a very safe prediction. Make no mistake however, both sets of players will be focused on only one thing; glory. Tonight is a night when heroes are made. Who's next to steal the limelight?

(Cathal Mullan)
 
 
  Comments
 
 
Ed 10/17/2011 11:35:29 AM
Sir Alex can big-up the Manchester United - Liverpool games as much as he likes but certainly the Glasgow derby and Rome derby are streaks ahead. Liverpool ALSO have Everton and Manchester United ALSO have Manchester City, they are the real city derbies. Good write up, fingers crossed for Rocchi... AVANTI LAZIO!
 
Anthony 10/17/2011 11:35:36 AM
Great game. Plenty of determination. Defense is still very shaky and needs to be stabilized. Konko is not a replacement for Litch but put in an admirable performance today. Lulic is not a Serie A defender. Not up to scratch. Certainly can go forward and when Rioma went down to 10 men, Lulic's offensive flair was on display. If Lazio is to have agreat year we need Radu back as strong as ever and need to buy a Left fullback in January along with another Central defender). Midfield is ok as long as Ledesma, Brocchi and Matuz keep going. Cana is a B player. Mauri and Gonzales are good on the outside flanks. Sculli is an adequate substitute but that is all. Upfront Klose shows his incredible intelligence ever time he touches the ball. His movement is excellent and seems to have quickly complimneted Cisse's pure power and presence. Forza Lazio, Non Mollare mai!!
 
 
 
 
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