Few countries do derbies as well as Italy does, and one of the best rivalries are the Roman rivalry between SS Lazio and AS Roma. Like Rome’s founders Romulus and Remus, the two clubs from the capital are bitter rivals and constantly fighting despite everything they share. When they meet in the Olimpico, home to both clubs, the fans fill the stadium and a remarkable atmosphere fills the air. Like always, this was the setting on Sunday as Roma and Lazio came into the derby after different experiences in Europe during the week. Roma had completed the stunning comeback of turning a 4-1 deficit against Barcelona into a 3-0 home win and progress on away goals while Lazio threw away a Europa League semi-final spot by conceding four in twenty minutes in Salzburg to go from 5-2 to up till 6-5 down. It was no surprise to see Roma the more energetic team in the early stages, and that impression stuck. This is what happened.
Lazio lined up in their expected 3-5-1-1 that Simone Inzaghi has used all season. Thomas Strakosha was in goal; Luiz Felipe, Stefan De Vrij and Stefan Radu in defense; the Balkan duo of Adam Marusic and Senad Lulic patrolled each wing either side of a midfield diamond of Lucas Leiva, Marco Parolo, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Felipe Anderson; Serie A top scorer Ciro Immobile led the line.
Roma continued in the fluid 3-5-2 they used in the crushing of Barcelona and Eusebio Di Francesco chose the following eleven: Alisson; Federico Fazio-Kostas Manolas-Juan Jesus; Bruno Peres-Kevin Strootman-Daniele De Rossi-Radja Nainggolan-Aleksandar Kolarov; Patrik Schick-Edin Dzeko.
Lazio were quite cautious in their approach to the match but if that was surprising then their pressing wasn’t. Felipe Anderson would join Immobile as a front two when defending and due to Roma’s numerical superiority (3 vs 2) against the Lazio duo they would be joined by either Milinkovic-Savic or Parolo when pressing the Roma back-three. This is a ploy Inzaghi has used against all sides playing a back-three against Lazio this season so it was no surprise. Still, it worked well as Roma rarely got their fluid passing going early on.
In the above scene we see one of these scenarios. Anderson and Immobile has started the pressing scheme against Jesus and Manolas respectively while Milinkovic-Savic pushes up towards Fazio. In the centre, Parolo has picked up Roma’s deep-lying playmaker De Rossi while Lucas is out of shot covering Strootman. This clear man-orientated pressing would look differently on the other side with Parolo then the one pushing up against Jesus and Milinkovic-Savic covering De Rossi.
Roma’s pressing was in many ways similar to Lazio’s as it was also man-orientated and they looked to maintain direct access to the back-three with three players as well as mark the deepest midfielder to prevent an easy progression of the ball. In the image below you see how they did this. Nainggolan pushed on from midfield to press Lazio’s right-sided centre-back Luiz Felipe while Dzeko pressed De Vrij and Schick moved towards the left-sided centre-back Radu. Strootman marks Lucas (yellow) in midfield. Down the wings it was a straight wing-back battle between Marusic and Kolarov on one side and Lulic vs Peres on the other.
Below’s another example which also highlights Kolarov pushing up against Marusic and Strootman (yellow) blocking a pass to Lucas.
Roma’s pressing worked extremely well and led to Lazio opting to use a very direct style of play where they looked to progress up the pitch through long-balls towards Milinkovic-Savic who would battle in the air while his teammates looked to get on the end of his flicks or win second-balls around him.
In the second half, Di Francesco changed the position of Nainggolan and his shape to become 3-4-1-2 with the Belgian acting as a 10 behind the front two. The pressing scheme then meant Nainggolan would press Lazio’s central centre-back De Vrij while Dzeko and Schick or substitute Cengiz Under would press the wider centre-backs.
Roma take control
Roma were better than Lazio throughout the game and their power as well as fluid movement led to them dominating the game for large spells with Lazio more focused on counter-attacks. As always with Roma, a key component in their possession play was the use of rotations to create space centrally. I’ve written extensively on the subject in this piece on Di Francesco’s tactical approach. Against Lazio, Edin Dzeko was key in the way Roma went about controlling possession. The Bosnian was superb in the way he dropped into midfield to help control possession for Di Francesco’s side.
Below, Strootman (yellow) has rotated wide to take Parolo (light blue) away from the centre which opens up a passing lane to Dzeko. Luiz Felipe follows him into midfield, but Dzeko can still lay the ball off to both Kolarov or De Rossi.
Below is another example of how Dzeko moved around to find good positions to drop into. I’ve highlighted how he’s dropped off from his starting position into the left half-space to help Roma dominating possession as well as drag his opponent out of position and create space for Schick to attack.
As mentioned, Di Francesco also changed his setup when chasing a winner in the second half. In the first half, Roma’s midfield were mostly setup with De Rossi behind Strootman and Nainggolan although Nainggolan often pushed higher. Mostly though, it looked like below.
After about an hour minutes though, Nainggolan was placed as a number 10 behind Dzeko and Schick with De Rossi and Strootman forming a double pivot behind the Belgian. This new setup can be seen below as well as the substitute Cengiz Under (red) dropping into the right half-space to get the ball. The new positions was likely a way Di Francesco though he could overcome Lazio’s strong coverage in front of their defense; with Lucas occupied with Nainggolan it should open space for Under. It didn’t yield a winner though, but it was interesting to see the idea.
Lazio then? It wasn’t their most exciting performance of the season but they were largely solid and restricted Roma to few chances. They had a couple of their own, but they failed to add to their free-scoring seasonal tally. They had one of the best attacks of the game however which perfectly encapsulated how important Marco Parolo’s deep runs from midfield are for Lazio’s style of play. Lucas first plays a pass to Immobile who lays it off to Milinkovic-Savic. The Serbian has spotted Parolo’s run and chips the ball over the Roma defense to the onrushing midfielder who fails to control the ball cleanly when trying to take it down and it goes over the line. It could have been the moment to turn a draw into a win but it wasn’t to be on the night.
The Roman rivalry is one of the most intense in football and the 0-0 result didn’t match the fireworks in the stands. It leaves these clubs in 3rd and 4th, both a point ahead of Inter in fifth, in an exciting race for Champions League qualification. Lazio’s defeat in Europe might give them an edge as they only have six league games left now while Roma will focus a lot of their energy towards their Champions League semi-final. It will be intriguing to see how it all ends. On Sunday though, the two sides largely cancelled each other out in a tense, restless and goalless derby.