Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Attempting to win a derby with eleven men is difficult enough, but when your team is reduced to ten after a mere seven minutes, the feat becomes nigh on impossible.
Not only did AS Roma find themselves in that very situation against bitter rivals Lazio, but the man dismissed was goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, who also conceded a penalty following a last ditch foul on Mirsolav Klose.
Forced into a change a little earlier than anyone could have reasonably expected, Luis Enrique withdrew birthday boy Erik Lamela and threw on reserve keeper Bogdan Lobont, who was immediately picking the ball from his net having been sent the wrong way by Hernanes from the spot-kick.
From that point it should have been plain sailing for the Biancoclesti, but the Rome dust-up is not known as ‘the derby of derbies’ for nothing. With nothing to lose and pumped full of the adrenaline of the occasion, Roma equalised less than ten minutes later through Fabio Borini.
At that stage it seemed that perhaps the unlikely would happen, but with tiring limbs came tiring minds and Lazio were able to exploit some slack defending, with Stefano Mauri sliding home the decisive second goal midway through the second half.
Roma’s perilous position was borne out of the kind of mistake that has plagued Luis Enrique’s side all season: giving away possession in midfield and then being caught short at the back.
Opposition teams have learnt that the Spaniard has basically done away with a four-man defence, with the full-backs encouraged - perhaps even contract bound - to push well beyond the two central defenders, who are expected to sally out wide to leave space for a midfielder, generally Daniele De Rossi, to drop deep.
However, if one of the central defenders - and in this case it was Gabriel Heinz -needlessly gives the ball away, their opponents have advantage high enough up the pitch and with everyone caught out of position the back line is swept away like a paper umbrella in a storm.
It has happened against lesser teams than Lazio, including Cagliari, Siena and most recently Atalanta – and all it took was one stray pass to undo all of Enrique’s planning for a match which represented the Giallorossi’s best chance of staking a claim for third.
Lazio came into the game seven points ahead of their city rivals and level with Udinese for that final Champions League spot. This meant that, in theory, the pressure should have been eased, but a derby in the Capital brings with it a very unique set of strains and demands.
Both Curvas were full a good ninety minutes before kick-off, while the streets of the Eternal City had been left to the tourists to roam in the warm early Spring sunshine.
The Olympic stadium is a cauldron all of its own, but the two teams had done their best to keep the heat at manageable levels. There had been little or no major proclamations of intent in the week leading up to the big day, or any pre-game fist pumping, though certain elements of the Lazio support spoiled that somewhat with their unsavoury chanting towards Juan.
This was perhaps as the teams had other things on their minds. Roma warmed up for the derby by going down to nine men in a 4-1 defeat at Atalanta, while Lazio were busy attempting to calm the internal dispute which had seen coach Edy Reja temporarily resign via fax a week previously.
The veteran was back pacing the technical area after what he described as merely a ‘misunderstanding’. That ‘misunderstanding’ being one between steady Edy, club president Claudio Lotito and sporting director Ilgi Tare over January transfer activity (or a lack of it) following the recent 5-1 defeat at Palermo.
A second derby win of the season and a first in which Roma were the designated ‘home’ side since 1997 should have been enough to ease the tensions within the Lazio hierarchy, but instead Reja used the post-game press conference to perhaps sarcastically applaud the winter transfer moves Emiliano Alfaro - a lightweight striker from Uruguay - and rent-a-midfielder Antonio Candreva.
Neither player made the starting line-up, though the former did come on as a late substitute. Reja was also quick to appoint Gianfranco Zola – linked with the Lazio post during the recent times of uncertainty - as his successor, but his tongue was once again firmly in his cheek. By Monday morning he was making reconciliatory tones that maybe he would like to remain.
There is no doubt that the 66-year-old has worked a small miracle with the players he has at his disposal. Granted, Klose is having something of a swansong in Serie A with 12 goals to his name, while Hernanes can at times be inspiring, but the rest of his charges are no more than workmanlike.
The fact that they could not kill off the match when they were a goal and a man up points to a lack of strength in depth and although they currently reside in third place would be a poor reflection on Serie A if Lazio finish ahead of either Udinese or Napoli.
But the way things are going they may even feel that second place is not out of the question, with Juventus dropping two points at home to Chievo, though the Turin side do have a game in hand to extend their current three-point advantage.
Such a situation makes Roma’s position even more puzzling. In terms of individual quality they outshine Lazio and Juventus but their followers are beginning to wonder whether the “project” the club have embarked on will ever come to fruition.
Luis Enrique lamented the fact that he his side had finished another game with ten men after what was their eighth sending off of the season).
“What have I done to deserve this s**t?” he asked, to which one media wag joked that it was a better standard of stool than the punters were subjected to most weeks.
Even the usually loquacious Enrique was at a loss for another comeback on a day where Edy Reja had the final word.
Latest Italian Football News
Milan snatch Champions League spot late on
Moratti hints at change on Stramaccioni future
Fiorentina furious over Milan's 'gifted' penalty
Mazzarri quits Napoli after four seasons
Sampdoria put dampener on Juventus finale
He's here, he's there, he's...
The cost of Premier League away travel
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010