Was This Weekend Francesco Totti's Last Derby Della Capitale?
For the last five years, every battle between Lazio and Roma has had the same repeated sub-plot: could this be the last Derby della Capitale for Francesco Totti? Eventually, this will be true. Eventually, there will be a time when Rome’s favourite son will no longer be able to enter the fray. Already, he has been relegated to a bit part player in the derby. But, as ever with Totti, he has managed to make starting from the subs’ bench a vital part of the action.
But this could be it. For a variety of reasons, this could well be the actual, definite, positively final appearance in a match between Lazio and Roma for one of Italian football’s extant heroes. Not least because he is now 40. But of the 43 derbies that he has played, this will not be how Totti will have wanted to end things. Lazio soundly beat Roma, his eternal enemies having by far the better of a strange match.
For some reason, there was still the dream of a title chase going into the weekend. It’s technically possible, we told ourselves, Roma could well overhaul Juventus, if things go their way. But this is Roma. Things never go their way. Still, as Juventus drew 1-1 in Atalanta, the potential grew ever-so-slightly. This could be it.
Of their last eight matches, Roma had won seven. For nearly five years now, Lazio had not managed to beat Roma in the derby (in the league, at least). Roma were hitting their stride, ready to assert themselves. They’d even managed to keep Totti on the bench, the impact perfect sub for exactly this occasion. When it was revealed that Lazio had suffered a litany of injuries before the match, then things seemed perfect. Too perfect.
With Immobile out with a fever, announced hours before kick-off, Simone Inzaghi decided to play a 3-5-1-1 formation with Keita Baldé plying a lonely existence up front. Roma went for their usual line-up, including Salah and Dzeko, two of the league’s most in-form attackers. Roma, technically the home-side in the shared stadium, were ready for action.
But not everything was perfect. There were rumblings of a strike among the Roma ultras in the days before the game. Usually such a fierce atmosphere, the fans announced their displeasure with recent police actions which have banned certain supporters from attending football matches. In response, the Roma fans would not bring their flags. They would not sing. They wouldn’t have much to sing about, as it happened.
Lazio were set up to contain and counter. Despite their pragmatic shape, the Lazio players themselves must have been surprised by the amount of space they found in midfield. Lucas Biglia, though seemingly there to spoil, was able to create boundless chances for Keita, more than enough to force the Roma defence back several metres. This in turn opened up space between the lines, allowing Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and his through balls to really get into the game.
Though Roma started well, it was Keita who opened the scoring. It was an easy goal, resulting from the clever tactical approach outlined by Inzaghi, as well as Keita’s own inventiveness. But what should have been a comfortable Lazio lead was soon put under pressure by the referee.
Waving away claims for a Lazio penalty, Daniele Orsato soon found himself at the other end, conned by a dive from Kevin Strootman. It was a shameless display, but it worked. Daniele De Rossi took the spot kick and the scores were level.
From next season onwards, the Serie A officials will be aided by the presence of video refereeing. Announced recently, the VAR tech should help avoid incidents like the Strootman display. Fortunately, in this case, justice was served on the pitch. Though the first half had ended level, it was not long before the second half burst into life.
Basta got the second for Lazio, Keita doubled his tally and got the third. The final score would be 1-3 to Lazio, though it’s hard to overstate their dominance in the derby. They played it perfectly.
And then there was Totti. A true veteran of any battle involving Roma versus Lazio – which he himself has described as a ‘war’ – it was not to be his day. Having begun his conspicuous warm-up well into the first half, Totti could clearly sense the way the wind was blowing. He would be needed here, he thought, he could clearly be the hero once again.
Before the game, Nike had unveiled a special pair of boots for Totti to wear in the game. They were unveiled with Totti sitting on a throne, playing on his nome de guerre as the eighth king of Rome. It’s been a reign of close to 25 years and these special golden boots were meant to be a celebration. Admittedly, they certainly caught the eye when Biglia nutmegged the Roma captain late on in the game. Totti’s potentially-final came to nothing in the end.
Big changes are taking place at Roma. Sevilla transfer supremo Monchi has been appointed as sporting director and Spalletti could well be out of the door. Whereas the previous wrangling with the club’s hierarchy regarding Totti’s contract caused a huge amount of disruption and ended with a few more years on the pitch, this time Roma have been more proactive.
They have already offered him a six-year deal in a board room role. This would not be Totti’s last derby, they suggested, just potentially his last one on the actual pitch.
But to talk of Roma’s squad and their struggles, as well as the likely overhaul that will ensue, is to take nothing away from Lazio. This is a young, energetic, and effervescent team. Many of their best players are below the age of 25 and, in Inzaghi, they seem to have an adept young coach who is perfectly placed to take advantage of the means at his disposal. They now need to keep hold of their best players. With the Coppa Italia final on the horizon (admittedly against Juventus), this could be the perfect time to win a trophy.
There is no doubt that Totti will come to define an era at Roma. His reign as the eighth king of Rome is a remarkable run, one which will be eulogised when he finally does announce his retirement. But, right now, his team looked decidedly second best against the old enemy. If Roma want to continue their dominance in the derby, then they will need to address many more problems than their aging king. With revolutions looming, we could see a changing of the guard in the Italian capital.