Roman eyes will not be on Wembley this weekend. While the rest of Europe looks forward to Saturday’s Champions League showpiece between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in London, residents of the Italian capital have a cup final of their own to worry about. Less than 24 hours after Germany’s finest square off on foreign soil, Rome’s two biggest clubs will resume hostilities at their shared Stadio Olimpico home.
This is no ordinary derby. Roma and Lazio have faced each other more than 150 times over the past 80 years, but never before have they met in the Coppa Italia final. For both teams, entry into European competition next season is also at stake, since neither qualified through the league. Gazzetta dello Sport’s Stefano Cieri was exaggerating a little when the described this as “the most important Rome derby in history”, but not by all that much.
Already there are concerns for public safety, after both league meetings between the two teams this season were preceded by running battles between fans. More than 1,000 policemen will be deployed in and around the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, but the local authorities remain concerned about the potential for flare-ups far away from the stadium once the game is finished. Rendering their job even more complicated, mayoral elections are taking place on the same day in Rome.
From a footballing perspective at least, Roma have managed to stay focused on business as usual. The decision to rebrand the club’s logo has put one or two noses out of joint, while reports that Massimiliano Allegri will take over as manager in the summer continue to gain traction. But those stories should have even less bearing on Sunday’s game than Francesco Totti’s trip to see the Pope on Wednesday with caretaker manager Aurelio Andreazzoli.
Lazio owner Claudio Lotito also met with Pope Francis during the same event at the Vatican, but, with the exception of the injured Louis Saha, his players were not able to attend. That is because Lotito sent them away for a week-long training camp in the small and relatively secluded Umbrian town of Norcia.
Lotito’s meddling did not go down well at first, either with his players or the manager Vladimir Petkovic, but he may have taken the decision on superstitious grounds. Lazio had stints in Norcia before their derby win in April 2009 and their Coppa Italia final victory over Sampdoria a month later. In 2010 they visited the same locale under Edy Reja and subsequently secured the results they needed to stave off relegation.
Lazio have done their best to conduct training sessions away from prying eyes in Norcia, but it is known that Miroslav Klose has been working with the first team and is expected to start on Sunday. He has scored twice in his four Rome derbies to date, but might not be the best choice in the goalscorers’ market. Klose put five past Bologna earlier this month, but has otherwise not found the net in 14 games.
Indeed, none of the obvious goalscoring candidates are in sparkling form. Pablo Osvaldo leads Roma with 17 goals in all competitions, but is not expected to start. Erik Lamela has 15 but only one in his last seven games. Nevertheless, recent meetings between these two sides have tended to produce goals and I would counsel the overs at 1.80.
Odds of 2.3 on a red card being shown also look very tempting; there have been eight in the last five meetings between these two sides. I am also leaning towards Lazio to lift the trophy at 2.2. The Biancocelesti have won three of the last four Rome derbies, and drew the most recent. They would likely have won that fixture, too, if Hernanes had scored his penalty early in the second half – when his team was already leading 1-0.
Score prediction: Lazio 2-1 Roma