Verdict: Total goals under 2.5
Best odds: 8/15
Arch-rivals Lazio and Roma are set to do battle in the Derby of Rome on Sunday, within the 27th round of the Serie A season. The game is obviously important; it’s always a big deal when these two teams meet, regardless of form or table positions, but this time, even the competitive aspect of the fixture is loaded with significance as both strive to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
The top-four race
At the moment, Lazio are third in the Serie A table with 49 points, squeezed in tightly between the two Milan sides, second-place Inter with 50 and fourth-place AC Milan with 48. Roma are fifth with 47, Atalanta sixth with 45, though the team from Bergamo has already played its match of this round, coming back from a goal down to beat Empoli 2-1 at home.
Napoli have run far away from everybody else and with an 18-point gap separating them from Inter, it feels fair to say the Scudetto is firmly in their hands already, with 12 rounds still to be played. The impressive season has taken the sky-blues from Naples out of reach for everyone else, but the battle for the remaining three spots leading into the Champions League next season will be fierce, and each team from second to sixth place certainly has a chance to be there at the end.
The situation obviously adds a very competitive edge to an already fierce rivalry between the two Roman giants and adds further importance to this particular clash.
Apart from the Serie A, Lazio competed in the Europa Conference League this term, having beaten Romanian CFR Cluj over two legs in the knockout stage play-offs, they’ve just been eliminated in the round of 16 by Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, scoring once and conceding twice in each leg.
Maurizio Sarri’s team are currently on a run of form that can only be described as unstable. Their last-six run includes the second leg against Cluj, which was played in Romania and finished goalless, as well as both legs against AZ. The remaining three matches were a 1-0 win at home over Sampdoria, a stunning 0-1 win away to Napoli, inflicting the table toppers with their second defeat of the league campaign, and a goalless draw away to Bologna last week.
Veteran striker Ciro Immobile was ruled out of the return leg against AZ through a thigh problem and will miss the derby on Sunday as well, and his absence will surely be a big blow for the nominal hosts. Midfielder Matias Vecino is out through an accumulation of yellow cards, but fullback Adam Marusic returns having served the same ban himself.
With Immobile unavailable, winger Felipe Anderson will likely be deployed in the central attacking role again, making way for former Roma winger Pedro to join Mattia Zaccagni on the flanks. The usual trio of Danilo Cataldi, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto will be deployed in the middle of the park, and at the back, Marusic and Elseid Hysaj are likely to flank centre-backs Alessio Romagnoli and Nicolo Casale. The place between the posts belongs to Ivan Provedel.
Roma are enjoying a notably more successful European campaign than Lazio. They’ve booked a place in the quarterfinals of the Europa League at the expense of Real Sociedad, triumphing over the Spanish side in the first leg 2-0 at home and successfully keeping the rematch in San Sebastian goalless.
The last-six run of Jose Mourinho’s side includes both of those games, as well as the 2-0 victory over RB Salzburg in the second leg of the knockout stage play-offs. It also includes a shocking 2-1 defeat to Cremonese, the only match the prime relegation candidates have won in the league this season, an almost equally surprising 1-0 win at home over a resurgent Juventus in the very next round, and another deflating defeat, at home against Sassuolo, by 3-4.
Defender Marash Kumbulla, who scored the winning goal against Juventus, was sent off against Sassuolo and is now suspended. Right-back Rick Karsdorp got his nose broken in the same game and surgery is necessary to set it right, which means he’s unavailable too.
On the other hand, captain Lorenzo Pellegrini, who missed that game through a head injury, is back in contention.
With Rui Patricio in goal, Gianluca Mancini, Chris Smalling and Roger Ibanez are likely to form the back line. Bryan Cristante and Nemanja Matic are likely to pair up in the middle of the park, with Leonardo Spinazzola on the left and Nicola Zalewski on the right. Pellegrini and Paulo Dybala should be the players supporting striker Tammy Abraham upfront, with Andrea Bellotti, who hasn’t scored a Serie A goal this term, dropping to the bench.
This game will also be a battle of wits between two former Chelsea bosses. Neither Sarri nor Mourinho will want their respective teams to attack too rashly, given what’s at stake. An early shock goal might liven things up, but if it doesn’t come, one scored at a later stage might well be enough for one team or the other to secure victory in a very tight contest. The bookies place slightly shorter odds on Roma, but it really feels the outcome could go either way.
Verdict: Total goals under 2.5
Best odds: 8/15