Rome reaches fever pitch for derby
Derby fever is especially fervent in Rome this week as the two city rivals prepare to do battle at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
Lazio have had to live in Roma's shadow for several years but their surprising start to the season has seen them open up a four-point gap at the top of the table. That has got the sky blue half of the city more excited than normal ahead of Sunday's game and around 4,000 people turned up to watch a midweek practice match between Lazio and their own youth team.
Even given Lazio's lofty position in the Serie A table, Roma are still regarded by many as the better team, although Lazio will be nominally the home side at the ground they share. But what has given Lazio fans extra confidence and perhaps hit the self-belief of Roma's is that Giallorossi captain Francesco Totti will be suspended due to his dismissal last week against Lecce for pushing Ruben Olivera.
It means that for once, the cards look stacked in Lazio's favour and although coach Edy Reja insists they're not equipped to last the distance at the top of the tree, victory on Sunday would not only give their fans a huge boost but would also suggest that this team is at least good enough to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
However, not everyone is agreed on whether Totti's absence will help or hinder Roma. Although the club talisman and the darling of the terraces, Totti is almost 35 and many think he is not just past his best but also keeping a more deserving player out of the team.
Without Totti's imposing presence some think other Roma players may feel freer to express themselves. And Lazio captain Tommaso Rocchi says he for one isn't relieved by Totti's absence. "We would have been happier to see him on the pitch, maybe his absence is an advantage for Roma given the results in the last few derbies," he said, a reference to last year's equivalent fixture in which Totti was withdrawn at half-time as Roma won 2-1.
However, Rocchi had a warning to his own team-mates. "Often the team in the better form, the one that seems superior, normally has more to lose," he said. "We need to forget everything we've done until now and to prepare as best we can for the game. I'm sure we'll play well. I think the level of Roma and Lazio is the same, we're in better shape than them."
While many are surprised that the cash-strapped capital team are top of the league, Rocchi insists they deserve to be where they are. "If we're top it's because we deserve it. In every game there are favourable incidents but if you win every time it means that the team is there and deserves what it gets," he said. "Then, where we finish up and how long we'll stay top, we'll see but this is the here and now."
After an awful start to the season, Roma have been slowly improving, but midfielder Daniele De Rossi says they will have to be at the top of their game to come out on top. "We need to play perfectly. Lazio are the team of the moment, the most in-form team and everything's going for them. It'll be very tough," he said.
Second placed Inter Milan will be looking to bounce back from their humbling at Tottenham in midweek as they host Brescia while third-placed AC Milan travel to struggling Bari.