Unpredictable Bastos provides timely reminder of improvement at Lazio

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The last week has served as a neat summary of the highs and lows of Bastos’ time at Lazio.

Last Wednesday in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta, the Angolan was entrusted with a starting spot ahead of the experienced Stefan Radu after playing a key role in the capital club’s cup run.

In the space of 36 minutes, the centre-back was booked for a reckless tackle, enraged the Bergamo club with a potential handball inside the box that was missed by match officials, and was substituted for Radu as coach Simone Inzaghi lost faith in the 28-year-old’s ability to avoid a second yellow card.

Lazio went on to triumph 2-0, clinching their seventh Coppa Italia triumph, and Bastos was re-instated into the defence five days later for the club’s final home game of the season against Bologna.

A helter-skelter match ended 3-3 under torrential rain at the Stadio Olimpico, but the home side had Bastos to thank for drawing them level while 2-1 down when he showed some dazzling footwork before curling a beauty of a strike into the opposite top corner to the collective astonishment of the spectators.

This is Bastos. His unpredictable nature has characterised his time in Rome, with commanding, energetic and composed performances alternating with crippling errors and damaging lapses of concentration.

Now in his third season at the club, the former Rostov centre-back is too often unfairly coupled with error-prone team-mate Wallace, who arrived at the same time, during discussions about the Lazio defence.

Both players were heavily linked with departures from the club last summer but they stuck around and have been given plentiful opportunities to show they still have something to offer this season.

Wallace began the season well, memorably marking Cristiano Ronaldo off the pitch during a 2-0 defeat to Juventus in week two in Turin.

But the Brazilian’s costly errors in a recent 3-1 league defeat to Atalanta have seen him end the campaign with his name being booed by his own fans, who have finally seen enough after three years in which he has provided little evidence that he can eradicate costly individual errors from his game.

Bastos, on the other hand, barely got a sniff in Inzaghi’s team in Serie A until January and has since proven that he has a role to play in this team.

The Angolan has had to survive the wrath of the fans at times too, particularly after being responsible for both Roma’s goals in a 2-1 Derby della Capitale defeat in November 2017, but he has fought his way back.

His phenomenal goal against Bologna aside, Bastos has played an important part in the second half of Lazio’s season.

He started all but one game during a cup run in which the Roman club’s defence didn’t concede a single goal in four 90-minute matches against Atalanta, Milan (twice) and Inter.

In fact, Lazio didn’t concede a single goal in open play in the Coppa Italia this season, with Mauro Icardi’s extra-time penalty and another spot kick from Novara’s Umberto Eusepi, when Lazio were already leading 4-0, being the only goals they let slip.

Much of this has been thanks to Bastos’ success on the left side of a back three alongside Francesco Acerbi and Luiz Felipe.

This was the defensive line that secured some of Lazio’s best results of the season: the 1-0 win away to Milan in the cup semi-final second leg, the 1-0 win away to Inter in Serie A and the victory in the final over Atalanta, albeit with the aforementioned caveat.

What’s more, Bastos was again starting when Lazio beat Roma 3-0 in March, one of their best performances of the season and the joint-highest winning margin in the club’s history in the Rome derby.

Bastos’ improvement has gone under the radar this season, but he has succeeded where Wallace failed in proving he has something to offer this team and that he possesses qualities others don’t.

Inzaghi has done well to identify his strengths: blistering pace, unwavering physicality and the relishing of one-on-one battles.

The coach has got him to focus on these elements while simplifying the aspects of his game that have caused the most trouble in the past such as getting caught in possession and being overly reckless in dangerous areas.

It’s unlikely that these characteristics will ever be entirely stamped out, but at the very least as Bastos unleashed an unstoppable curling shot into the top corner on Monday he offered another reminder of why he can play a role in this team going forward.

The 28-year-old will head to the Africa Cup of Nations with Angola this summer and even if he’s sold on his return to the capital, he can at least say that he did everything he could to change public opinion of him after a difficult start to life in Italy.

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