ROME – The joint arrival of Jose Mourinho and Maurizio Sarri to the Italian capital in the summer of 2021 was a godsend for those who like a bit of edge to their derbies.

Two of the most outspoken personalities in the sport, with wildly differing ideas about how the game should be played, taking opposing benches in one of Europe’s most poisonous rivalries? Get the popcorn out.

Two years in, Sarri boasts the better record. Lazio have won three of the four derbies that have taken place since the two coaches arrived, including a pair of 1-0 victories last season.

So as we head into Round 5 on Sunday, how do things stand in the Sarri vs Mourinho showdown? 

Sarri vs Mourinho: How the coaches stack up

The results of 2022/23 continued a recent theme in the capital that has not sat well with Romanisti.

At the end of last season, Lazio celebrated not only a surprise runners-up spot – their highest finish since winning the Scudetto in 2000 – but a fourth consecutive year of finishing above their rivals.

Sarri has been responsible for only two of those, but Mourinho‘s inability to emulate his rivals by breaking the top four in Serie A has been a stick for his critics to beat him with – AS Roma have had back-to-back sixth-place finishes under Jose, while Sarri led Lazio to fifth and second.

However, Mourinho has achieved something his coaching coaching counterpart has not by winning a trophy.

The Portuguese boss led the Lupi to the Europa Conference League crown in his debut season, ending a 14-year silverware drought and sparking astonishing scenes of celebration in the capital.

He was a penalty shoot-out away from making it two cups in a row in the Europa League last season, while in that time Sarri‘s Lazio bowed out in the first knockout round of the Europa League before failing to make it through the group stage last season and going out to AZ Alkmaar in the Conference League last 16.

In short then, Sarri has performed better in the league, and Mourinho has impressed more in Europe.

Jose Mourinho celebrates with his staff after AS Roma’s Europa Conference League win. (REUTERS/Lisi Niesner)

War of words has begun

As already mentioned, neither coach is shy about saying what they think. That has been especially true this week in the build-up to the Derby della Capitale.

Mourinho and Sarri have largely been on the same page when it comes to complaining about the relentless fixture schedule, but the subject was the source of some classic pre-derby digs this week.

It started with Mourinho saying Lazio “will have an advantage” in the derby as they played in the Champions League on Tuesday, two days before Roma‘s Europa League trip to Slavia Prague.

Sarri responded by saying Roma have the chance to rotate their players for what he called a “friendly” in the Czech capital, whereas Lazio had to “go to war” against Feyenoord.

Asked about those comments the following day, Mourinho responded in typically mischievous fashion.

“I always respect my opponents. This mentality is the difference between a coach who has won 26 titles and one who has only won a few,” he said.

Lazio coach Maurizio Sarri in a Europa League press conference. (@OfficialSSLazio)

Slow starts and demon defences

Bickering aside, Sunday’s edition of the Derby della Capitale is massive in the context of both clubs’ seasons.

It has been a slow start from both Roman clubs, who are separated by one point in the table but sit three places apart, with Roma in seventh and Lazio 10th.

Lazio‘s attack has dried up in recent weeks, with three goals in their last four games a cause for real concern, and they have mustered just 13 in 11 Serie A games so far.

A lack of creativity from midfield has been a constant issue as the Romans continue to reel from the sale of the influential Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, with an overworked Luis Alberto bearing the burden of responsibility.

One cause for cautious optimism has been their defensive record of late. After a shaky start, a backline that kept a club record 21 clean sheets last season has posted three in their last five games – although the attack has suffered as a consequence.

Sarri said this week that he wants to “end his career” at Lazio, but he must find the right balance sooner rather than later and a derby defeat would undoubtedly ramp up the pressure after last week’s defeat at Bologna.

For Roma, the form book looks good, with a run of four wins in their last five Serie A games putting them back in the top-four mix.

However, questions have been raised over the sustainability of this form after a series of not-so-convincing performances.

Two of their last three league wins, against Monza and Lecce, required stoppage-time drama to take three points from otherwise unconvincing displays, while they offered almost nothing in a 1-0 defeat to Inter at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

Like Lazio, Roma‘s strength has been in their solidity, with Mourinho‘s side also keeping three clean sheets in their last five outings.

Recent history doesn’t point to a free-scoring thriller, then, but with points to prove, barbs to back up, rights to wrong and a Serie A table to climb, it will be impossible to take your eyes off this most compelling of fixtures regardless.