The Rome Derby can take many forms. Last season supplied a five-goal thriller won by Lazio and a resounding 3-0 victory for AS Roma, while on Sunday the Biancocelesti edged to glory in a war of attrition. They won 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico.
Attacking endeavour and silky-smooth passing were set aside by both teams in a game decided by who was determined and aggressive enough to come out on top.
Not long ago, it would have been exactly the kind of game Lazio crumbled in.
Everything seemed to be against them: two defeats in a row, an injury to captain Ciro Immobile and the controversial suspension of star man Sergej Milinkovic-Savic left the Aquile low on confidence and personnel heading into the game.
Then there was the atmosphere. Eardrum-blasting roars streamed from the stands throughout and tensions flared in the dugouts as the significance of this clash between two rivals targeting a top-four finish was left in no doubt.
But as a storm raged around them, Lazio’s defence was like a placid lake of tranquillity.
Jose Mourinho launched towering figures forward in search of a goal late on as the referee found 10 minutes of added time from somewhere at the death.
But Ivan Provedel continued to field crosses and Nicolo Casale and Alessio Romagnoli batted away every ball sent in their direction.
By full-time, the Biancocelesti had restricted Roma to two shots on target. They made no big mistakes, Roma did, and that decided the game.
Roger Ibanez’s error – his second disastrous one in this fixture – ultimately cost Roma the game. It was exactly the kind of individual slip-up Lazio have managed to cut down on this season.
There was a level of composure to their defending that stood as a stark contrast to years gone by, when high-profile defensive and goalkeeping errors have cost the club precious points and results domestically and in Europe.
Maurizio Sarri might be renowned for what he can teach his teams to do on the ball, but the structures he has introduced off it have been the cornerstone of Lazio’s run to third place in the Serie A table.
There have been a couple of notable blips – the baffling 5-1 hammering away to Midtjylland and the recent 3-1 loss at home to Salernitana.
But Lazio’s record of eight goals conceded in 13 Serie A games is only bettered by Juventus (7).
From one season to the next and with a brand-new goalkeeper and defensive partnership coming in, Sarri has got his team’s average goals conceded per game tally down from 1.5 in 2021/22 to 0.6 this term.
Sunday showed just what that can do for a team. One gift of a chance was enough to take a vital three points, thanks to their comfort in defending that lead.
Mourinho would’ve been proud, were he not on the losing side.
It’s time to talk about Tammy…
What’s going on with Tammy Abraham?
The Roma striker has looked a shadow of his former self this season, and his performance in the Rome Derby was no different.
After snatching at an early effort, the England international squandered a promising opening by playing a through ball straight out for a goal kick, while prodding another finish harmlessly wide.
You didn’t have to look too far on social media to see Roma fans bemused by Mourinho’s decision to keep the ineffective striker on the pitch until the end.
Abraham has two goals in 13 Serie A games this season, and none since 12 September – a drought of seven league games without scoring.
His dip in form has come at a bad time; on a personal level it will impact his England World Cup chances, while on a team level he’s been unable to plug the Paulo Dybala-shaped gap in attack.
Mourinho said after his side’s defeat that Roma are missing the Argentina international’s flair, while more bad news soon arrived as the injury that forced Lorenzo Pellegrini off in the second half will keep the Italy midfielder out until next year.
With Nicolo Zaniolo still frustratingly unproductive in front of goal, with one strike to his name in Serie A this season, Roma need to find the old Abraham again, who netted 27 goals in all competitions last season.
As it stands, Chris Smalling is the highest-scoring Englishman in the Roma squad – surely that fact alone will drive Abraham to raise his game…