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Sunday, 23 October 2005

2411: Serie A: Death or glory as Rom

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by : Paul Watson

For football fans in the Italian capital last season is best forgotten. Once again Roma and Lazio were equally insipid, failing to deliver anywhere close to expectations and finishing eight and tenth respectively. However, this term has seen the two clubs in contrasting form. Lazio fans, who could have been forgiven for approaching this season with trepidation, have been treated to a flying start with a shock 1-0 victory over Fiorentina leaving them in equal fourth. The mood amongst their Giallorossi counterparts is more sombre. Roma limp into Sunday’s grudge match with the indignation of a 1-0 defeat at Empoli fresh in the mind. After a generally lacklustre opening to the season, a defeat by the Serie A newcomers, who were reduced to ten men for much of the game, was described as ‘embarrassing and disastrous’ by the local press.

It would seem that Luciano Spalletti, installed at the beginning of the season, has been unable to lift the cloud of underachievement that has suffocated Roma for so long. The man who masterminded Udinese’s rise to a Champions’ League spot last season may well be regretting his switch from diligent overachievers to arrogant underachievers. Constant internal struggles have blighted Spalletti’s efforts to turn a collection of highly talented players into the appetising outfit they could be. Antonio Cassano’s persistent refusal to play a part sums up the situation. There is frightening talent at the club but all too often it is not delivered. Key players such as De Rossi and Totti have been well below par and Italy Under-21 international defender Cesare Bovo has looked out of his depth since his arrival from Palermo. A lack of confidence has caused the onset of a worrying vicious circle. Roma have the look of a side fighting their own demons.

Lazio are almost the polar opposite to their prodigal neighbours. Unlike past years the squad is built on a foundation of young talent and reliable, hard-working players rather than star names. Youngsters Valon Behrami and Emilson Cribari look very astute signings and, while there is no prolific goalscorer, Pandev and Rocchi look capable of shouldering the burden. Angelo Peruzzi has rediscovered an agility that belies his age, putting himself back into the Italy squad at the age of 35, and fellow veteran Paolo Di Canio is still an inspiration, albeit increasingly in a coaching role. Lazio’s success owes so much to the harmonious nature of the dressing room and coach Delio Rossi is quickly cementing his reputation as a shrewd manager able to bring the best out of a team.

Francesco Totti may well be regretting his brash declaration that Roma can be title challengers. At what is already a club in crisis, good UEFA Cup performances are by no means enough to appease the Ultras. Delio Rossi will look ahead to Sunday with high hopes but for Luciano Spalletti the derby could not have come at a worse time. Following his side’s humbling at the Stadio Castellani, Spalletti called for ‘drastic changes’ but he must know only too well that if the Giallorossi are beaten on Sunday he himself may well be the first casualty. One thing is certain, despite his poker face, the man in one of Serie A’s hottest seats is acutely aware that the stakes could not be higher.

Paul Watson
21 October 2005

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