With the Derby della Capitale looming for AS Roma, there is a growing sense that things could be beginning to change for the maroon side of Rome.
After years of failure in their bid to find the right manager to lead the side to a Scudetto, the hiring of ex-Sassuolo coach and former Roma player Eusebio Di Francesco feels like they might finally have found the right fit.
James Richards looks more closely at what Di Francesco is doing at Roma in the run-up to the derby in a bid to see who will come out on top on Saturday.
On an upward trajectory
In the aftermath of his achievements with the minnows of Sassuolo, Eusebio Di Francesco’s name was being linked with several high profile jobs before he was finally installed as the replacement for Luciano Spalletti in June this year at Roma: the club where he made over 100 appearances between 1997 and 2001.
The season started well for Di Francesco and Roma as they eased their way to an opening day victory against Atalanta. The game in Bergamo was far from comfortable but Aleksandar Kolarov’s strike proved to be enough to get the Giallorossi all three points.
The first game at the Stadio Olimpico was not so good. With Internazionale in town, they spoiled the party with a deserved 3-1 victory: Edin Dzeko’s goal proving to be little more than a consolation in the end.
Since that poor display, however, Roma have been excellent, only losing twice all season with the other defeat coming to table-topping Napoli in October. Victories away at Milan, Torino and Fiorentina have been the highlight for the Giallorossi who have been particularly impressive on the road.
Dzeko is key
Dzeko has been a bit of an enigma in his time at Roma. Arriving at the club with a multi-million Euro price tag and massive expectations after his big move from Manchester City, the Bosnian didn’t really fulfil his potential during his first season, only scoring eight league goals.
Last season, though, was a different story as Dzeko ended up with 39 goals in all competitions, a new club record.
Since the arrival of Di Francesco, Dzeko has continued in this rich vein of form, grabbing six goals in his first five games and giving Roma a much needed focal point to their attack.
This form has also been translated into European football. Dzeko was fundamental to Roma’s results against Chelsea in the recent Champions League double-header in the group stages, the tall striker scoring twice in the first leg at Stamford Bridge.
The Derby della Capitale
Eusebio Di Francesco’s job will be to make his Roma side more consistent than in recent seasons. They are currently sitting only five points behind the leaders Napoli ahead of the massive derby clash with Lazio, themselves only a point ahead of Di Francesco’s men.
The two sides have met 146 times in Serie A in their history and, during this time, Roma have a clear edge, winning 52, drawing 57 and only losing 37 times.
Both managers will know the importance of this game. Both Di Francesco and his opposite number Simone Inzaghi experienced it as players – the former as a Roma player, the latter as a Lazio player.
Inzaghi’s tenure at Lazio has been as surprising as Di Francesco’s. Where Roma have the edge over their cross-city rivals according to league finish – Roma having finished ahead of Lazio in the league for the past five seasons – fans of Lazio will quickly point out the fact that they have more recent silverware: I Biancocelesti beating Juventus in the Super Cup in August.
The derby match has all the promise of being a classic. Roma have the best defence in Serie A and they find themselves coming up against a Lazio side who are experiencing their best start ever – winning nine games in all competitions so far.
Players to watch
Lazio – Ciro Immobile
Much of Lazio’s success is due to the lethal form of striker Ciro Immobile who has scored 14 goals in the first 11 matchdays.
Immobile shot to fame when on loan with Pescara in 2011-12. Under the tutorage of Zdenek Zeman and with the help of Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne he helped Pescara to promotion with 28 goals in 37 games.
This season he has been backed up by the excellent midfield play of Serbian Milinkovic-Savic and support of Spanish teammate Luis Alberto, who will pose a real threat to the Roma backline.
Roma – Radja Nainggolan and Diego Perotti
For Roma, apart from Edin Dzeko, the players to keep an eye on are Diego Perotti and the ever impressive Radja Nainggolan.
The Belgium international has already notched up ten assists this season and marshals the Roma midfield with confidence.
As for Perotti, who scored a wonderful goal against Chelsea in Roma’s home fixture against them, the Argentine has been thriving for them on the left-hand side of a front three, scoring three goals in all competitions so far.
An eye to the future
Few commentators really believe Roma will win the league this season. What they do agree on, though, is that, if Di Francesco is given the time he was allowed at Sassuolo, then there is no reason why he cannot build a dynasty for the Giallorossi.
If he can get Roma to a position where they are consistently challenging for league titles and competing in Europe, he will go a long way towards becoming a legend at the club.
This is something the fans have been hoping for ever since their last Scudetto success in 2000/01 when they beat Parma on the last day to pip Juventus to top spot by two points.
Time will tell whether Di Francesco can transfer his success with minnows Sassuolo to the capital club but no one doubts that he has all talent required to do so, now all he needs is time.
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