Roman gladiators: Roma’s greatest derby line-up

AS Roma Match Program (Tiziano Riccardi) Let’s make this clear from the off: this is just for fun. The choices are all subjective and people’s opinions will differ. But here is my perfect team to send out onto the pitch for the derby, imagine them one alongside the other to take on Lazio. The criteria for selection are many and diverse: they may have had special moments in the derby, they may have scored goals, they may have just disdained the opposition.

Let’s start off with the formation, how the team should play. A lot of attacking players will be mentioned so, just like in fantasy football, it’s best to adopt a 3-4-3 formation with an attack-minded midfield. In goal is Julio Sergio, the three-man defence is made up of Cafu, Yanga-Mbiwa and De Micheli, the three men in midfield are De Rossi, Giannini and Da Costa with Totti playing behind the three forwards, Delvecchio, Volk and Montella. The coach is Capello, the man with the highest average win percentage from at least 10 derbies.

JULIO SERGIO: Three derbies were enough for him to win a place in the hearts of the fans, with a miraculous save from Mauri in the derby won by Cassetti’s goal (2009) and a saved penalty against Floccari in the return match, which was decided by a brace from Vucinic (2010). He even predicted he would save it before the striker stepped up.

CAFU: He never scored in the derby and, what’s more, he nearly ruined one of the most beautiful goals ever scored in the derby: Totti’s chip against Peruzzi. How? As Totti went to strike the ball he called for captain to pass him the ball out on the right hand side. Never mind. His flicks of the ball over Nedved’s head, on the day Paolo Negro’s own goal decided the game, are more than enough for eternity.

YANGA-MBIWA: One derby, one goal. It was 25th May, 2015, and the other team thought they were going to qualify for the Champions League at Roma’s expense. Lazio 1-2 Roma: Iturbe, Mapou. What else?

DE MICHELI: 24th May, 1931, Lazio-Roma. Roma had a throw in and De Micheli went over to get the ball as time was running out. Giorgio Vaccaro, a general in the Fascist regime and influential in the Lazio hierarchy, kicked the ball away to waste time as the rugged defender approached. De Micheli reacted by giving Vaccaro a slap. It was a reprehensible act, but for this and much more he was part of the famous January 2015 choreography among the 16 ‘sons, captains and legends of Rome’.

DA COSTA: He is in midfield because he came to Roma as an attack-minded mezzala, but soon became a goalscoring machine. He scored a lot in the league, but most of all in the derby. Counting official and unofficial derbies, he scored 12 goals. No one has ever scored more than him.

DE ROSSI: He practically wears a scarf around his neck when he plays in the derby, and at the start he really struggled in it by his own admission. Now, however, he is able to manage the tension of the game better. On one occasion, the 3-2 win in 2007, he dedicated the victory to “that Lazio fan who sends me messages every night”. And after the fifth derby win in a row, he said, “Not even Real Madrid won five games against Rayo Vallecano in two years”.

GIANNINI: The best derby of his life was the one on 27th November, 1994: Balbo, Cappioli and Fonseca with the goals. The third goal came from his cross to the far post, headed in by the Uruguayan forward. Then came the post-game celebration under the Curva Sud, holding three fingers up to the fans to remind the fans in the stands of the score. Lazio 0-3 Roma.

DELVECCHIO: He scored nine goals against Lazio, and Alessandro Nesta still has nightmares about him. Nesta, one of the best defenders of the last 20 years, always fell into the trap of Delvecchio’s feint and change of direction. It was always so tempting and he could never avoid it. And when Delvecchio scored, he would sometimes lift up his shirt to display a t-shirt saying: “Fly, Supermarco, fly”.

TOTTI: It isn’t about the goals he has scored (11), his chip against Peruzzi, his brace in the rain in 2011, the selfie under the Curva Sud, the t-shirts he prepares for his celebrations, the ‘great beauty’ comment after Mapou’s goal. It’s not that. It’s the relationship he has with the other team, an underappreciated aspect of the legend’s character. An example? When he scored his 9th league goal against Lazio, as Delvecchio and Da Costa had done, he told the cameras: “This is the most beautiful record of all. I’ll relish this…” Let’s just say that didn’t go down too well with them.

VOLK: He has the honour of having scored the first ever goal in the derby. The year was 1929, the place was the Stadio della Rondinella. Lazio 0-1 Roma. He made it clear which Roman team really mattered.

MONTELLA: No one except him has scored four goals in a single game against Lazio. It was 10th March, 2002, and Montella’s four goals inspired Roma to a 5-1 win. He forced Nesta to be substituted after just 45 minutes, becoming an eternal bogeyman for the other team. He even beat them when he was Roma’s coach in 2011.

COACH, CAPELLO: The Pieris-born coach holds the highest winning percentage of any Roma coach who has taken charge of at least 10 derbies: 58.33%. He took charge of 12, winning seven, drawing four and losing one. As a player, he never lost in his three matches. He even scored once. A winner.

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