Roma show progress post-Totti era with impressive derby victory
Playing the Rome derby for the first time since Francesco Totti drew the curtain on his glistening career, Roma didn't disappoint. The Giallorossi best Lazio 2-1, confirming steady progress since their inspirational skipper retired. The arrival of Totti's ex-teammate, Eusebio Di Francesco, as coach has also been a factor.
Saturday's Derby della Capitale was unusual compared with past occasions. Dark Clouds still hover across the Italian capital following the Azzurri's World Cup debacle. Furthermore, Francesco Totti's presence was missing on the pitch. Christened Re di Roma, meaning 'The Eighth King of Rome', the 41-year-old won the hearts and minds of the people, at least in the city's red and yellow half.
For those of a sky blue persuasion, Totti was a scourge but no less renowned. He featured in 44 derby games, the most by any player in history - almost double Lazio's record holder, Giuseppe Wilson, who appeared in the fixture 23 times. Totti also made everlasting impacts against his side's fiercest rivals. He remains his city's goal king with 11 strikes. Most notably, his famous effort in 2015, where he was pictured taking a selfie afterwards.
Now part of the club's board, the Roma legend was seated next to other big shots for the latest encounter. It was an unfamiliar place. Totti's words on Twitter before kick-off highlight that point: ''Today I will certainly feel a new sensation as after so many derbies experienced on the pitch, I am living from another perspective, which is different and fascinating.''
A combined 55 points entering the clash was the highest for the two Rome sides after 11 league games since 1994. Lazio was enjoying the better streak, unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions. Hence, much was at stake for both teams. They were striving to end the other's fine run. For the fans, it was all about bragging rights.
Less than three weeks ago, Roma trounced the Premier League champions, Chelsea, 3-0 in the Champions League. The focus was now turned to hunting for its first Serie A title since 2001. Lazio hoped to dent those hopes.
The Gaillorossi were simply brilliant though. Just like they have been throughout the season. Their passing was exquisite, the transition play swift, not forgetting the doggedness to attack and defend in equal measure.
After an electrifying first half, albeit goalless, Roma bagged two within seven minutes of the restart. For the opener, Aleksandar Kolarov was tripped by Bastos in the penalty box, and Diego Perotti duly converted. Moments later, scorer turned provider. Perotti took the ball from midfield before crossing to Radja Nainggolan, who found the target with an angled shot from beyond the area.
Roma then needlessly conceded a penalty. Kostas Manolas, under no pressure, tried to cushion a cross on his chest, but the ball hit his upper arm. After consulting the video assistant referee (VAR), a spot kick was awarded. Ciro Immobile smashed the ball home in the 72nd minute. Lazio failed to find an equaliser, however.
The result enabled the Gaillosrossi to move above their City neighbours in the table. They sit fourth in Serie A, with 30 points from 12 games.
As frustrated as Totti seemed, he would have certainly been pleased with what Di Francesco's charges produced. He must have been proud, like a father, watching from the tribune. Relaxed in the knowledge that Roma is in safe hands, more organized and compact than when he hung up his boots nearly six months ago.
Although it's still early days, the post-Totti Roma era looks encouraging.