Last season Roma narrowly missed out on the Scudetto while Lazio just about avoided relegation from the Italian top flight. While the Giallorossi ended up second in the table, just two points behind eventual champions Inter, the Biancocelesti finished in the lower half of the standings. Roma were brimming with confidence and Claudio Ranieri was being largely hailed, while Lazio were in crisis and Edy Reja was thanked for rescuing them from the drop.
Then in the summer something changed, and the situation reversed. Roma began to stutter, then collapse, then recover and then collapse again; Lazio began to dominate the standings. As the Lupi were flirting with a place in the bottom half of the table and then climbing up the ladder, the Aquile were busy attempting to secure a top-four place.
And now after 28 rounds of matches in the Italian top flight, Lazio find themselves with an all-important one-point advantage in fourth spot and with the chance of burying Roma’s hopes of a Champions League football next term. A win today for Reja’s side in the Derby della Capitale will see them stretch eight points clear of Montella’s team, effectively putting flight to their top-four chances.
Make no mistake – it is never normally this way. Historically Roma have been the bigger club and better team and have won more than Lazio - three Scudetti to Lazio's two, nine Coppa Italia to Lazio's five. In the Rome derby in Serie A, they have won 46 times compared to Lazio’s 33 and since 2000 have failed to finish above them in the league standings only once, in 2002-03. Roma have a better and stronger presence in Europe too, regularly competing in the Champions League.
Yet this campaign Roma find themselves at the mercy of their most loathed rivals. They may have won their last four derbies, including a Coppa Italia triumph this year, but an eight-point gap between themselves and the top four will effectively kill their hopes of playing Champions League football next season.
The Maggica have had a nightmarish season as they have seen their coach resign and a previously untried and inexperienced tactician take over at the helm, and failure to qualify for Europe’s top club competition would add the cherry to the cake. For Lazio.
However, it wouldn’t signal a reversal to fortunes in the Eternal City or throw Roma into eternal depression from which they would be unable to claw their way out. There is an impending takeover of the club by the Thomas R. DiBenedetto-led consortium and this is being largely perceived as a positive move for Roma. The arrival of new owners promises prosperity and a new dawn, and come next season the former Italian champions could once again have the pendulum swing their way.
But for now Lazio are revelling in the prospect of triggering an avalanche on their most bitter rivals.