Claudio Ranieri has written his own fairytale in the Italian capital this season, resurrecting his boyhood club Roma from the brink of relegation to the most unlikely Scudetto victory since Verona finished top in 1985. During a phenomenal unbeaten run, his team have successfully chased down Jose Mourinho’s Inter machine.
Last weekend a nervous win over Atalanta saw them finally overtake the Nerazzurri and lead the league for the first time in three years. Then on Friday night Inter re-took the lead, beating Juventus in an ill-tempered match which saw Momo Sissoko sent off in the first half and a stunning goal from Brazilian defender Maicon.
With the Rome Derby on Sunday evening, Ranieri had the chance to regain the lead, and send a powerful message that his Giallorossi were the real deal. One goal down at half time, both the game and the Scudetto hung in the balance.
The coach is widely believed to have sealed his fate as Chelsea boss during the 2004 Champions League Semi Final against AS Monaco. The Tinkerman lived up to his nickname that day, substituting Jesper Gronkjaer and introducing the much-maligned Juan Sebastian Veron at half time.
With far more than city bragging rights on the line, memories of that day were revived after the opening 45 minutes, with Lazio a goal up and looking like ruining the neighbours dream. More than a few Roma fans looked on in stunned silence as the teams entered the field for the second half.
Jeremy Menez and Rodrigo Taddei on. Captain, talisman, icon Francesco Totti and fellow Roman Daniele De Rossi off. Madness or genius? When Lazio won a penalty just a minute after the restart, it looked for all the world as though Mourinho’s opinion of Ranieri would hold true.
Yet as the half wore on, Roma were able to dictate the pace of game before hitting the opposition on the quick counter-attack. Menez and Taddei kept wing-backs Stephan Lichsteiner and Aleksandar Kolarov in check, the encounter swung in Roma’s favour as they emerged victorious once again.
Inter have the easier run-in on paper, but no matter how Mourinho’s men perform, Roma are a point ahead and if they win their last four games then they will become champions.
Elsewhere Milan’s title hopes were effectively ended once more after going down 2-1 to Sampdoria who solidified their position in fourth place. Palermo came from two goals down to earn an unlikely 2-2 draw at Cagliari to keep alive their own Champions League hopes. Napoli remain sixth spot after a 2-1 success at Bari. Genoa remain in the hunt for Europe with a 3-2 win at Parma.
Atalanta boosted their survival hopes with a surprise 2-1 victory over Fiorentina. Bottom club Livorno lost 2-0 at Chievo on Saturday, but survive another week after Bologna drew 1-1 at Udinese. Struggling Siena picked up a point in a 2-2 draw at Catania.