One of the biggest and most fiercely contested derby matches in Europe. The passion of Fenerbahce-Galatasaray, the local bragging rights of Celtic-Rangers, and the quality and excitement of Arsenal-Tottenham. Imagine a mix of the three, and you come close to the formula for the Derby della Capitale, the Rome derby.
Both sides will play their part in what promises to be a fascinating face-off and the two teams respective tactics will play a massive part in the outcome.
The two Coaches, Roma’s Luciano Spalletti and Lazio’s Delio Rossi, were both appointed in the summer of 2005. They have led their respective teams to remarkable levels of success – considering the differing level of finance available to them both. They have both managed to qualify for European competition on numerous occasions, and in Spalletti’s case, secure a trophy in the shape of the Coppa Italia.
Having spent the last few years moulding his Roma side to play an exciting brand of football that has seen them labelled as the best side to watch in the peninsula, a shocking start to the new campaign has seen Coach Spalletti change formation from the 4-2-3-1 that the Giallorossi have become accustomed to playing.
A week last Tuesday, the Tuscan-born tactician unveiled a new 4-4-2 formation, with the midfield forming a diamond shape. Daniele De Rossi held everything together at the base, David Pizarro offered creativity going forward at the tip of the diamond and Simone Perrotta and Matteo Brighi covered the right and left sides respectively. Francesco Totti – normally a lone striker – now had Mirko Vucinic as his strike partner. The result was a fully deserved 3-1 victory over last year’s beaten Champions League finalists Chelsea.
The former Udinese boss stuck with this system, and indeed the same players, on Saturday for the trip to Bologna. While the result, a 1-1 draw, wasn’t exactly what he may have been looking for, it did end a run of four straight Serie A defeats for the capital club. This new system utilises the central areas of the pitch far more than the 4-2-3-1. In many ways, it plays to Roma’s strengths. The lack of width in the Giallorossi squad has been spoken about many times, and Rodrigo Taddei, their only natural winger, has been in poor form this season. By getting his midfield to form a diamond, Spalletti is able to take advantage of the wealth of central midfielders available to him.
In terms of player positions, the main change has occurred with David Pizarro. Spalletti has used the Chilean maestro in a deep playmaker role, but the new shape sees him further forward, behind the strikers. It is a clever move, as the No.7 will undoubtedly be able to cause more damage with his creative skills further forward.
Simone Perrotta – previously placed behind Totti in the 4-2-3-1 – has been dropped deeper in the midfield to cover one side of the diamond. The hard-working Italian provides the Giallorossi with an option when going forward, but is defensively aware to cover when right-back Cicinho decides he wants to join in. Brighi, nominally a defensive midfielder, does the same on the other side.
What is noticeable is the ability of players to interchange within the system. De Rossi has a fabulous capacity to burst forward into the box, upon which the aforementioned Brighi can step in to cover. Vucinic can pull out onto the left flank (as he did to devastating affect against Chelsea), leaving space for Totti to work. It is something Lazio coach Delio Rossi will have to be aware of.
Despite the early success of this system, Spalletti confirmed after the match on Saturday evening that once Alberto Aquilani and Julio Baptista come back from injury, he is likely to return to the tried and trusted 4-2-3-1. This does seem rather strange, as both would slot in perfectly to his new tactic – a tactic that has produced a positive change in results. It would seem foolish to change it.
His opposite number at Lazio has no such decisions to make with regard to formation. Their success this season has been built upon a Milan-style 4-3-1-2/4-3-2-1 system.
The three man midfield is a wonderful mix of defensive steel, creativity and attacking flair going forward. Cristian Brocchi – a summer buy from Milan – provides the defensive steel. Coach Rossi views him as a key component in the midfield – going as far as to rest him for the weekend’s 3-0 victory over Siena. Cristian Ledesma replicates Andrea Pirlo’s role, sitting in front of the defence and starting attacking moves. His passing and vision may not be as good as the World Cup winner, but he will nevertheless have to be watched very closely by the Giallorossi. Mourad Meghni provides the attacking threat bursting forward from deep. The former Bologna starlet suffered a stuttering start to his Lazio career last season, but has stepped into the breach this year with some fine displays in the centre of the pitch.
Who fills the trequartista position is the hardest decision the Biancocelesti tactician has to make. Tommaso Rocchi’s return from injury at the weekend saw him strike twice in the final five minutes of the game whilst Goran Pandev returns from suspension. So far this season, the role has belonged to Stefano Mauri, managing to provide plenty of ammunition for strikers Pandev and Argentine Mauro Zarate, who have hit 12 goals between them this season.
The latter two seem certain to start the game. They have formed a fantastic partnership this season and it seems unlikely the Aquile boss would want to break it up. One option could be to drop Mauri further back into the midfield, in place of Meghni. This would free up the trequartista position for Pandev, leaving Rocchi free to take his place up-front.
The team is also capable of playing in a 4-4-2, something which Rossi has taken advantage of a few times this season. It is a flat four across the midfield and normally two full-backs will fill the wide positions. Lorenzo Di Silvestri takes the right-midfield berth, with Stefan Radu or Aleksandar Kolarov taking the left-midfield slot, though Mauri is also comfortable playing wide.
While it may seem unlikely that the Lazio tactician will switch from a system that his players look comfortable in, he may decide to take advantage of the lack of width in the Roma side and their exposed full-backs. This would, however, leave the two-times Scudetto winners vulnerable through the middle if their opponents opt for the diamond midfield.
With both sides capable of adapting to different formations at will, the two coaches will have to keep their wits about them as one of the continent’s most exciting matches unfolds. Player preparation for a derby game has never been so complicated!