Resurgent Lazio aim to knock league leaders Roma off their perch in the fierce Rome derby

Lazio v Roma, Serie A, April 18, 2010

Lazio 3.76; Draw 3.24; Roma 1.95

A massive weekend in Italy’s top flight closes out with the match of the weekend – the Derby della Capitale – as league leaders Roma take on city-rivals Lazio, who are themsleves scrapping for points to assure them of beating the drop.

Despite Inter Milan having lead Serie A for almost the entire campaign, Roma now have the finishing line in sight knowing that this weekend’s Rome derby is arguably their toughest match left this season. After taking on the Aquile, Roma host Sampdoria and Cagliari and have trips to Parma and Chievo left on their schedule. Aside from Parma who still habour European League aspirations, those four games are far from being too daunting, especially as Cagliari and Chievo have virtually nothing left to play for, while Samp are poor on their travels.

But Roma need not be too concerned with any of their opponents, taking into account their tremendous effort to snatch pole position in the title race. Having been fourteen points off Inter earlier in the season the Giallorossi have clawed themselves back into contention following an amazing 23 match unbeaten run in the division, however relegation-threatened Lazio’s form is also far from shabby of late having won three and drawn two of their last five matches.

That Roma are in this position though remains even more jaw-dropping considering how their season opened. It was only September when Luciano Spalletti quit the Stadio Olimpico outfit following the home defeat to Juventus. Roma were a club in crisis, a seemingly spent force, until Claudio Ranieri arrived and everything seemed to magically work.

Recently Ranieri has been boosted by having all his attacking options finally available to him this season. The loan signing of Italy striker Luca Toni during the transfer window was an inspired piece of business, with Toni having scored five goals in ten games since arriving in the capital. Mirko Vucinic has been the constant threat throughout the season with 14 goals and four assists in his 34 matches this term, while the Romans attacking trident has been completed with the return of captain and talisman Francesco Totti.

Aside from their thrilling forwards, Roma have quality throughout the rest of their team. One of the most complete midfielder in Italy and the world, Daniele De Rossi is the engine and drive in the Roma midfield and he will be keen to dominate the middle of the pitch against Lazio.

Elsewhere, Julio Sergio has turned into one of the best goalkeepers in Serie A after being considered nothing more than third-choice under Spalletti. Nicolas Burdisso came from Inter to strengthen their backline. It has also been the season of David Pizarro, by far one of the most skilled midfielders in Europe.

As for bitter rivals Lazio their goal is simply to survive in Serie A. That said the Biancocelesti’s chances of suffering relegation have receded thanks to a five game unbeaten run under the tutelage of Edy Reja.

They’re six points clear of 18th place and should be safe. Nonetheless the prospect of harpooning their mortal enemies’ Scudetto hopes has the Aquile fired up to say the least, according to midfielder Cristian Ledesma. “Roma can expect to find in front of them the only team of the Italian championship ready to play the game of their lives and make the trip up of a lifetime.”

Lazio, though, have a string of selection issues to contend with. Ousmane Dabo, Mourad Meghni, Cristian Manfredini, Pasquale Foggia, Francelino Matuzalem and Albano Bizzarri are injured.

Of those fit and able, the derby could provide the backdrop for Mauro Zarate to rescue his own difficult season. The Argentine playmaker has had a dire season, claiming only three goals after his €18m transfer last summer. Zarate could be joined by Sergio Floccaro in the Lazio attack – who in turn has scored six goals this campaign. Floccari has struggled with injuries on occasions since joining the Aquile but he has been brilliant when he has been fully fit.

Lazio have more than enough incentive to want to win on Sunday night. Firstly they’ll give relegation-fears a timely boost in the arm while, more importantly perhaps, their season of woe could be tempered by ensuring Roma do not win the title. The likelihood is though that a tough, close match will play out in the Eternal City derby, and a stalemate could well be on the cards.

101gg predicts: Lazio 2 – Roma 2

Lazio 3.76; Draw 3.24; Roma 1.95