It is always a glamourous affair when sides from these cities meet and Week 15 will be no different when the blue half of the Italian capital play host to the Nerazzurri of cosmopolitan Milan.
Since the turn of the new millennium Lazio and Inter have experienced contrasting fortunes – Lazio under future England manager Sven Goran Eriksson pulled off a domestic double in 2000 winning both the Scudetto and Coppa Italia (interestingly they beat Inter over the two-legged final) and went on to enjoy short-lived success before internal affairs forced the club into a downfall of financial crisis, high-profile player sales and the Calciopoli scandal. Over at Inter, things were even more complex.
Serial underachievement was the biggest issue where despite the club’s stature as one of Europe’s footballing elite, silverware was proving evasive – the 2005/06 post-Calciopoli crowning was their first Scudetto since 1989. Now, it appears both clubs are enjoying a stability that see them both amongst the strongest clubs in the Serie A division. Inter have reigned champions since 2006 and now, after a reconstructive summer, Lazio are up amongst the tussle at the top and the upcoming battle is set to be a joy to watch as Inter will look to further distance themselves from the chasing pack whilst Lazio need a win just to remain in it.
Their head-to-head record in all competitions since the new millennium reads – Lazio three wins, Inter six and 11 draws. From those 20 fixtures, a massive 48 goals have been scored, and reeling off some of the names to have featured in those matches – in some cases for both sides – it’s not hard to see why they proved so entertaining. Enrico Chiesa, Hernan Crespo, Ronaldo, Matius Almeyda, Christian Vieri, Claudio Lopez, Karel Poborsky, Dejan Stankovic, Pavel Nedved, Juan Sebastian Veron, Roberto Mancini Marcello Salas…the list could go on.
Without doubt, the fixture has thrown up some unforgettable memories, like the 2000 Coppa Italia Final win for Lazio that crowned a majestic trophy double. A thrilling two-legged encounter was remembered not only for the Biancocelesti’s achievements, but the return from injury of the then world’s best player Ronaldo. After just seven minutes of action, the Brazilian was crumpled in a screaming heap with that career-threatening knee injury.
After nearly two years out, a rehabilitated Ronaldo returned for Inter in the 2001/02 season as they appeared in pole position to claim their first Scudetto for 13 years, all they had to do was beat sixth-placed Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico on the penultimate day, and the title was theirs. Instead, the Nerazzurri imploded losing 4-2 and allowing Marcello Lippi’s Juventus to pip them to the title. The television image of a crestfallen Ronaldo in tears on the Inter bench still remains iconic. That was to be the Brazilian’s last appearance in the Nerazzurri number nine jersey as the glamour of Real Madrid’s ‘Galacticos’ became the next chapter of his glittering career. With another piece of irony it was to be Lazio’s Argentinean record signing Hernan Crespo who was brought in to fill the void left by the Brazilian.
The saga continued in the winter of 2002 as the dark capital skies were lit up by an equally amazing encounter in which a Claudio Lopez hat-trick saw Lazio storm into a 3-0 lead, before a Emre Belozoglu-inspired Inter hit back to salvage a point. The result was to prove costly for Inter who finished runners-up to Juve once more.
Tragedy hit the fixture last season as the Inter/Lazio game of November 2007 was postponed after 26-year-old Gabriele Sandri – a popular DJ and Lazio fan was hit and killed by a bullet from a policeman’s gun. The incident happened as trouble erupted with Juventus Ultra’s whilst both sets of fans were on the way to their separate games. The rescheduled match was played out in March 2008 at a time where league leaders Inter could not afford to lose as doing so would give second placed Roma a greater chance of catching them. Lazio fans saw a Catch 22 – lose to the Nerazzurri and dent their great Giallorossi rivals Scudetto ambitions or win and boost them. The Lazio players saw no such problem, coming dangerously close to upsetting Mancini’s Inter. The end result was a 1-1 draw that Inter were lucky enough to come away with.
And so to 2008 with the now familiar state of play of Inter sitting top of Serie A ahead of the chasing pack. Perhaps unfamiliarly they look down to see Lazio closely following, who even also spent a period of early season residence up there. The Biancocelesti will hope to reduce the ten-point deficit and keep their title hopes alive. Recent results suggests either of these teams could grab a win with Inter – although league leaders – showing erratic form and Lazio – still reeling from their derby day defeat – unable to clock up a win. For sure this encounter is set to be like most things in Italian football – high drama, entertaining and controversial in equal measures.