Lazio enter the new year with a spring in their step, having rediscovered a winning formula and returned to the top four in time for bells.
But before they return to competitive action with the visit of Novara in the Coppa Italia on Saturday, here are some suggested resolutions that would make the year ahead a memorable one for Simone Inzaghi and his players.
Reach the Champions League
The undisputed No.1 target for the club is to achieve the goal that so agonisingly eluded them on the final day of the 2017/18 season: qualify for the Champions League. It has been 11 years now since the club’s fans have been able to hear the famous anthem ring around the Stadio Olimpico in the group stage, with some near misses coming in the interim period.
Lazio finished level with Udinese in 2010/11 only to be denied a Champions League play-off on goal difference. They then made it into the top four the following season, but by that point Serie A had been reduced to three Champions League places.
In the 2014/15 campaign, Stefano Pioli’s swashbuckling side came closer than anyone by finishing third, but again timing was against the club as it was still only enough to earn them a play-off, which they subsequently lost to Bayer Leverkusen.
Under Simone Inzaghi’s stewardship, back-to-back fifth-place finishes have been secured, and with the likes of Roma and Milan struggling for consistency, this could be their best chance yet of landing a top four spot – and this time being assured this time of a return to the lucrative group stage.
Trim the fat
As the January market opened for business, sporting director Igli Tare said that he expected there to be “more players on the way out than coming in”. While those may not be the most exciting words to fans hungry for new deals, it was an encouraging sign that the club might finally get rid of some of the hangers-on who are still on the wage bill.
Brayan Perea was finally released this month after five uneventful years at the club, but the likes of Ravel Morrison, Joseph Minala and Cristiano Lombardi remain on the books despite failing to play any part this season.
The departures of Martin Caceres, Dusan Basta and Patric look likely, while loan deals are being sought for young players who aren’t being given space to develop like Alessandro Murgia and Alessandro Rossi. The potential future role of young Portuguese pair Bruno Jordao and Pedro Neto, who reportedly cost the club a combined €11.5m in 2017, remains a mystery, with neither player having featured for the first team yet.
As for incoming players, Tare has done some superb work in recent seasons, with deals for the likes of Lucas Leiva, Ciro Immobile and more recently Francesco Acerbi providing exceptional value. Keeping the core of Inzaghi’s team together while making more astute additions must continue to be the market mantra, while if Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is to eventually depart, fans can rest assured that he won’t do so without President Claudio Lotito’s high demands being met.
Trust in Simone Inzaghi
Since unexpectedly taking the reins on a full-time basis in the wake of the club’s botched move for Marcelo Bielsa in the summer of 2016, Inzaghi has brought a level of consistency to the club that is unique among coaches in the Claudio Lotito era.
He has brought through young talents like Thomas Strakosha, Alessandro Murgia and Luiz Felipe, elevated Milinkovic-Savic, Immobile and Luis Alberto from players of potential to three of Serie A’s brightest talents, and led the club to consecutive fifth-place finishes, a Supercoppa Italiana triumph and only their second European quarter-final in the last 15 years.
There is absolutely no doubt that he’s the best man to take the club forward, yet fans can be fickle and a smattering of astonishing calls for his sacking were being made as Lazio struggled for form over the winter period.
Barring a complete dressing room implosion or sudden drop into the relegation zone, the club must support Inzaghi at every turn. There will always be low points to go with the high, but he is a young coach who continues to learn new lessons and has demonstrated the ability to take Lazio to the next level.
Do the cups justice
Who doesn’t love winning a trophy? The superb 3-2 Supercoppa Italiana win over Juventus in 2017 brought immense joy to the Lazio supporters, who never need much encouragement to remind rivals Roma that they’ve won four trophies since the Giallorossi last tasted silverware.
Sevilla, given their track record in the competition, are about the toughest draw Lazio could’ve been handed in the Europa League, but the Roman club can afford to see it as a free shot.
Best case scenario: Lazio take a huge continental scalp that could put them on course to matching, or even surpassing, last season’s quarter-final finish. Worst case scenario: they bow out to a quality team and have more time to focus on the arguably bigger prize of a Champions League place.
The Coppa Italia is a tournament that has brought the club much joy over the last decade with two wins, including a memorable final victory over Roma in 2013, and two more runs to the final. Saturday’s meeting with Serie C side Novara is the first step on a journey that could potentially lead to another cup final meeting with their fiercest rivals – another good run in the competition would delight the fans.
Fill more seats
The problem of poor attendances isn’t one that only Lazio suffer with in Italy, but average crowds of around 33,000 in a stadium that can hold more than 70,000 simply isn’t good enough and the team deserves better.
Whether it’s by lowering ticket prices – which are already very affordable – offering more promotions or marketing the club better around the city and further afield, it would be sensible for the club to challenge themselves to finish the year with more fans coming through the turnstiles on a weekly basis.
However, the responsibility for this ultimately doesn’t fall on the shoulders of the club but on the fans themselves. There are more than enough of them in the city and surrounding areas to provide a larger following for home games – perhaps those who prefer to sit at home or in the bar watching the games should make it their New Year’s resolution to get off the sofa and support their team.
How well do you know Italian football? Want to challenge the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? Play www.fantasyseriea.com now!