Borriello (pen) 52, Vucinic (pen) 87
Ever heard that colloquial chant at a football match when a side leading a division is not playing up to its billing “top of the league, you’re having a laugh”? Such terrace witticism could easily have applied to the Biancocelesti on Sunday afternoon where they made a mockery of their favourites tag in the Derby della Capitale. It is ironic and perhaps appropriate that in the eternal city, the nominal hosts could have carried on playing forever and in all likelihood still not scored.
The contentious nature of the first of two penalties awarded to the Giallorossi, a stonewaller refused to their rivals, and the fact that the officiating was generally poor for both teams should not detract from the fact that Roma were indeed the better side for large parts of the game. Their play was more enterprising and had the greater purpose.
Without the suspended Francesco Totti, the Giallorossi actually appeared to play with more dynamism and urgency as a collective. After 10 minutes of fencing, the game opened up somewhat, with opportunities at both ends. However, Roma were enjoying the greater of the meaningful territory and created the best play of the first half. Marco Borriello, Fabio Simplicio and Jeremy Menez combined sublimely to tee up Mirko Vucinic, whose shot unfortunately did not do justice to the preceding intricacy.
Just before the break came a controversial moment, as Borriello broke with menace down the left and fired the ball across for Leandro Greco to tap home. The offside flag was late and the decision itself more than a mite contentious. Borriello looked at worst to be level with the last man when he was released behind a square-looking Lazio defence.
So Lazio needed a change in the momentum of the game and Edoardo Reja’s introduction of Mauro Zarate for the second period was with this shift in mind. However, the first major moment came in the Biancocelesti penalty area with Stephan Lichtsteiner giving away a penalty in the ‘unfortunate’ category. Yes his arm was outstretched, but the ball was struck with such ferocity from point blank range the alternative may have been a knockout blow to the head.
It may have been immensely difficult not to award a spot-kick, but to suggest intent on the part of the Swiss player would be very harsh indeed. Borriello’s penalty was poor, but somehow squeezed through Fernando Muslera and the Giallorossi had a lead they deserved. From there however, they appeared to sit back, perhaps overcome by nerves and practically invited their city rivals onto them.
Lazio wanted a penalty of their own when John Arne Riise impeded Stefano Mauri at a free kick. Their players sense of frustration was understandable, but in many ways they had only been able to apply the pressure because of unnecessary Giallorossi caution. Both sides had opportunities and the woodwork was rattled at both ends before an unnecessary foul by Diaz on substitute Julio Baptista meant a second penalty for Claudio Ranieri’s side. Vucinic stepped up this time and delivered an altogether more confident and assured kick. Game well and truly over.
Maybe this is the real beginning of Roma’s season, and an indicator of Lazio’s limitations. While putting together a run of results to take themselves to the summit of Serie A, Reja’s side have never been outright destroyers of overwhelmed opponents. As the Giallorossi’s superior man-for-man personnel took the play away from them, Lazio’s lack of a plan B and real creativity became evident. When having to make something happen to change the momentum of the game, their lack of width is also a real hindrance.
Suggestions that they may be genuine Scudetto challengers are well wide of the mark on what we have just witnessed, while Roma may finally be up and running.