Lazio must make Chelsea’s Davide Zappacosta their January priority

Chelsea v Derby County - Carabao Cup Fourth Round

With the distraction of actual football matches put on hold for two weeks, fans have been left to try and negotiate the maze of transfer speculation that appears without fail at this time of the year.

This can be more of a challenge than it may appear, with scatter-gun reports linking a range of players – young and old, good and bad, from strikers to goalkeepers – to clubs daily.

For Lazio, however, the objective of 2019’s January transfer window is clear: ditch some of the deadwood and fortify the right flank.

The Roman club’s sporting director, Igli Tare, stated from the onset that “there will be more players on the way out than coming in” as he looks to trim some of the fat off a bulging first-team squad.

One of the positions likely to be affected the most is the right side of defence and midfield, after nobody made an authoritative claim to be the undisputed first-choice during the first half of the season.

Adam Marusic was the closest, a player who still has credit in the bank from an impressive debut campaign in 2017/18.

However, the Montenegro international’s form has been patchy this term and his latest outing, the 1-1 draw with Torino before the winter break, made for another forgettable afternoon as the right wing-back conceded a penalty – albeit a soft one – before being sent off and earning a two-match ban in the process.

Marusic’s woes aren’t the only reason that his position has been identified as Lazio’s number one priority this month, as all three of coach Simone Inzaghi’s alternatives have also faced difficult campaigns.

Patric has been elevated to second choice in the role this season, but despite the Spaniard’s admirable work rate and versatility, he lacks the quality required to ensure Lazio remain a Champions League contender until May.

Dusan Basta has been a loyal and effective servant to the capital club but is now 34 years old and has fallen out of favour under Inzaghi, making just two Europa League appearances, the last of which came in a 4-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in which he was shown two yellow cards before half time.

Martin Caceres has been a disappointment since arriving in Rome this time last year, as hopes were high at the time that the experienced Uruguay international could prove to be another Tare coup.

But the former Juventus man has struggled to tie down a regular place in the team, either at centre-back or wing-back, and is likely, along with Basta, to be heading for the exit door this month with both players’ contracts expiring in the summer.

Therefore, with Marusic failing to find consistency and Inzaghi’s alternatives already queuing up in the departure lounge at Formello, a reinforcement is needed to aid the Biancocelesti’s effort to maintain their current league position of fourth for the remainder of the campaign.

There has been no shortage of contenders filling the newspaper inches, with Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian among them.

However, the likely cost of the operation makes a move appear highly unlikely, with the Italy international currently earning around €3.4m per year at Old Trafford.

Given Lazio President Claudio Lotito’s historic prudence in the January market, it would come as quite a surprise to see the club offer Darmian a pay packet that would make him the club’s highest-paid player.

You don’t have to look too far from Manchester to find the ideal solution, though.

What Lazio need is a player who can line up on the right wing of Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 system, while feeling equally comfortable on the right side of a back four. A player who can dominate his touchline, providing an attacking threat while remaining defensively responsible. And ideally, a player who isn’t a complete unknown, given that he would be stepping into his new environment midway through a season with minimal preparation or adjustment time on offer.

Step forward Davide Zappacosta.

The Chelsea man ticks all of these boxes and more. Aged 26, he already has experience in two major leagues (Serie A and the Premier League), both major European competitions (Champions League and Europa League) and on the international stage, with 13 Italy caps to his name. All of that comes with the promise of his best years still being in front of him.

Of course, the same argument could be made for Darmian too, so what separates Zappacosta is the cost of a potential deal. The defender has a salary of €1.8m, which is comfortably in line with Lazio’s wage budget, while his current situation at Stamford Bridge could cut the transfer fee significantly.

The defender featured 38 times for the Blues under Antonio Conte in his debut season last term, scoring two goals including a spectacular effort against Qarabag in the Champions League on his full debut, but since Maurizio Sarri’s summer arrival he has played just twice in the league, with the rest of his chances coming in the Europa League. Sarri is unlikely to resist a sale.

The swirl of reports around a potential move have mostly agreed on the fact that Lazio would prefer an initial loan with the option to buy for a fee in the region of €12/13m, while Chelsea are said to prefer an immediate sale.

Lazio are in a position to buy. The club has money available, having gained significant sums from the sales of players like Felipe Anderson, Keita Balde, Lucas Biglia and Wesley Hoedt over the last two summers without ploughing all of their earnings immediately back into the market.

Bringing in such a high-profile player for a significant outlay would not be in line with Lotito’s usual way of doing business, but with the golden goose of Champions League football within touching distance, a prize that slipped through their fingers on the final day of last season, now is the time for the notoriously tight-fisted President to open his wallet for a player who could change Lazio’s season.

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