Sweet dreams have been hard to come by for the Biancocelesti boss, but victory switched the pressure to his opposite number
You could hardly blame Edy Reja for trying to resign. The Rome derby was still 11 days away when Lazio's manager handed in his notice on 22 February, only to have it rejected by the owner Claudio Lotito, but it is a safe bet that this fixture was already on his mind. Reja has noted that his anxiety before games against Roma is such that he is lucky to get even a few hours' sleep. When you've lost to these opponents as often as he has, sweet dreams are hard to come by.
Over the course of his 33-year managerial career, Reja had taken charge of 14 matches against Roma; losing 11 and drawing a further two. Since being appointed by Lazio in 2010 the record was played five, lost four. The most recent meeting, admittedly, had been the only exception to the rule – Miroslav Klose's late goal giving Lazio a 2-1 victory last October. But that might only have served to reinforce the sense that now was the time to get out on a high note.
It was not just Reja's personal history that made Sunday's match look daunting for Lazio, either. They were missing eight players through injury or suspension but perhaps more significant still was that this was officially a home game for Roma – meaning that the lion's share of a near-capacity crowd at the Stadio Olimpico would be pulling for the Giallorossi. Lazio had not won while playing as the away side in the derby since a Coppa Italia game under Sven-Goran Eriksson back in January 1998.
Lazio had more to lose than usual this time, too, entering the game level with Udinese in third place and with their stated goal of reaching the Champions League for the first time since 2007 looking more achievable by the week. With Roma seven points further back, this was an opportunity to effectively knock a direct rival out of the running. On the other hand, defeat had the potential to do the opposite.
Reja's team had received a significant leg-up on the way to victory in the first meeting this season when the Roma defender Simon Kjaer was sent off while giving away the penalty that would lead to Lazio's equaliser. On Sunday the equivalent moment arrived after just eight minutes – Roma's goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg this time receiving his marching orders after bringing down Klose when through on goal.
By the letter of the law it was the right decision, the goalkeeper having denied Klose a clear goalscoring opportunity, but that would not prevent the rule itself from being debated at length. "God save us from the International [Football Association] Board," wrote Ruggiero Palombo in Gazzetta dello Sport – lambasting the body for failing to modify the rules so that a yellow card would be deemed sufficient when a penalty is also being given. Reja himself would later say that to his mind a booking would have been sufficient.
Hernanes converted the penalty – just as he had in the first meeting – but it was not to be plain sailing for Lazio from there. Less than 10 minutes later Roma were level, the officials getting another big call right when the linesman Cristiano Copelli spotted that Fabio Borini's close-range shot had crossed the goalline before being headed clear by Giuseppe Biava. After Sulley Muntari's ghost goal against Juventus and Ifab's announcement that it will trial goalline technology, it was a small but welcome reminder of the good job that most officials are doing.
For the remainder of the first half and into the second, Roma would proceed to confound Lazio with their work rate – finishing with a greater share of possession despite being a man down. But with their manager Luis Enrique having withdrawn Erik Lamela – on the player's 20th birthday, no less – for the substitute goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont after Stekelenburg's red card, the team were shorn of a key creative outlet. Rarely did they threaten to shoot, let alone go in front.
Instead, a quarter of an hour into the second half it was Lazio who restored their advantage, Stefano Mauri applying a poacher's finish to a Cristian Ledesma free-kick swung over from the right. It has been a frustrating campaign for Mauri, playing just his third league game since the last derby – having spent four months out after tearing a thigh muscle. His rehabilitation programme, though, was conducted by Filippo Inzaghi's physiotherapist, Giorgio Gasparini; on this evidence one would have to wonder whether he hasn't been offering advice on more than just recovering fitness.
This time the advantage would hold, Francesco Totti heading Roma's best opportunity wide, while Hernanes perhaps ought to have added a further goal for Lazio. At full-time Lazio's players would run to celebrate before their fans in the Curva Nord. Then, a minute or two after disappearing down into the tunnel, they re-emerged – this time bringing Reja with them – to do it all over again.
"Now I hope to have at least a couple of months' peace," said Reja, though as usual that will be in great part up to him. The manager's attempted resignation last month – seemingly prompted by his frustration at directorial interference in his work – was not his first near departure this season. The possibility of him walking away was first raised in September after he grew tired of the abuse he was getting from a section of the Lazio support.
The separation came rather closer to materialising this time around, however, with Lotito going so far as to approach Gianfranco Zola over the manager's position – only for Reja to change his mind after a clear-the-air talk with the owner. A strong suspicion remains that this arrangement can only last till the end of the season, when Zola could still take charge, though both the manager and Lotito may find it rather harder to split should this team achieve their Champions League ambitions.
The one black mark on the day for Lazio was the behaviour of a section of their fans, who racially abused Roma's Juan during the game. The referee Mauro Bergonzi was forced to warn Mauri, Lazio's captain, that the game would be suspended if the chants continued and his attempts to convey that message to the supporters in question were accompanied by a statement over the public address.
That it should come to this was especially disappointing when both teams had presented a joint anti-racism initiative during the week, and had sent out their players before kick-off on Sunday wearing shirts proclaiming their unity against such prejudice. Juan handled himself with dignity, reacting only by turning to the fans and pressing his finger to his lips in a 'shush' gesture, before noting at the end that "this has never happened to me before in Rome".
Conversely, his manager Enrique was left to reflect on a defeat that felt all too familiar. "I don't know what I did to deserve this shit," he said at full-time. "I would like to play one derby with 11 men." Lazio, too, had finished this game a man short – but Lionel Scaloni's red card came too late to make a real difference.
This was the manager's 10th league defeat with Roma this season, and one which certainly does leave Champions League football looking like a distant dream for his team. Enrique said his team would continue to fight for every point and that he felt he had done enough by now to deserve at least the rest of the season.
"I wouldn't want to be the manager of a club if I'm not wanted by the club or the fans," said Enrique – a position he has maintained from the day he arrived in Rome. For now the club are still behind him, but after consecutive derby defeats, one or two supporters are not quite so sure.
• At one point on Sunday night it appeared that Claudio Ranieri could be set to lose his job at Inter on the same weekend that his former employers Chelsea had ditched their sixth manager since the Tinkerman. Down 2-0 at home to Catania and past the midway point of the second half, Inter were staring at a sixth straight defeat, having failed to score in 542 minutes of football. Then Diego Forlán cut in from the left, arrowing in a low shot that – with some help from the goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo – squirmed in at the near post. Ten minutes later Diego Milito popped up with an equaliser.
If it was hardly a result to shout about then it was at least a step in the right direction for Inter given the extent of their recent travails. Catania – exceeding all expectations this season under Vincenzo Montella – had played well, but it felt indicative of Inter's inability to catch a break lately that the visitors' second goal should arrive with an assist from the noticeably offside Giovanni Marchese.
There is little sense that Ranieri has found the solutions he is looking for in terms of tactics or selection – the late fightback appearing more as the result of desperation than design. But it was not the manager but the owner who has been drawing the worst of the fans' ire. A giant series of banners put on show by the home support read: "We asked where the strong man of this club was … nothing. We asked for clarity … nothing. Conclusions? Dear president, there can only be two: absence or incompetence."
• Filippo the nine-year-old showed up with another banner, incidentally, but I'm not going to tell you about that one as the child has had quite enough publicity already.
• Unfortunately Inter-Catania wasn't the only game to feature a crucial missed offside call. Napoli had already been fortunate to avoid conceding a penalty in their game against Parma when Andrea Dossena appeared to handle in the box, but at 1-1 they benefited from an even more clearly mistaken piece of officiating when the flag stayed down for Ezequiel Lavezzi's winner – for which the Argentinian had begun his run from some way behind the last man.
• While Inter suffer, Milan rejoice at the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who marked his return from suspension with a 14-minute hat-trick as the Rossoneri ran riot at Palermo – a team whom they had not beaten away from home in five attempts. It was only the second of the Swede's career in Italy, the last coming when he was with Juventus back in 2005. His record of 18 goals in 20 Serie A games this season represents the best scoring rate of his career. "My regret is not having been able to see him at the end of the game against Napoli and during the one against Juventus," said Galliani, refusing even now to let the player's ban for slapping Salvatore Aronica lie. The manager Massimiliano Allegri looked on the bright side, saying: "The break did [Ibra] good."
• What will have raised Allegri's spirits even further is seeing Juventus held at home by Chievo later on Saturday evening. Boukary Dramé's late equaliser for the visitors probably ought to have been cleared off the line by Leonardo Bonucci, but the off-balance defender could only succeed in diverting the ball into the opposite corner of his own net. Suggestions that Juve lack the sort of individual talents to kill off games such as these are nothing new, but on a weekend such as this they become ever harder to dismiss. Three points behind Milan, they can still go level (and effectively ahead, as they hold the tie-breaker) with a win in their game in hand against Bologna, but the momentum increasingly appears to lie with the Rossoneri.
Results: Bologna 1-0 Novara, Fiorentina 2-0 Cesena, Inter 2-0 Catania, Juventus 1-1 Chievo, Lecce 2-2 Genoa, Palermo 0-4 Milan, Parma 1-2 Napoli, Roma 1-2 Lazio, Siena 3-0 Cagliari, Udinese 0-0 Atalanta.