Lazio’s campaign of highs and lows concluded with the latter on Sunday when Simone Inzaghi’s side lost 3-1 at Torino to finish the Serie A campaign in eighth place.
It was the Roman club’s worst league finish in three years and topped off a season of startling inconsistency.
The joy of a 3-0 win over Roma and an impressive 1-0 victory away to Inter was in stark contrast to lifeless performances that resulted in damaging defeats to the likes of Genoa, SPAL and above all the unforgivable 2-1 loss at home to already-relegated Chievo over Easter weekend.
The Coppa Italia triumph gave the campaign a huge lift, raising spirits and securing Europa League qualification for next season.
But what lessons can be taken from a campaign of such extreme peaks and troughs?
Greater squad depth is required to achieve lofty goals
After coming agonisingly close last season, the Lazio hierarchy made no secret of the fact that Champions League qualification was the target for 2018/19.
However, Inzaghi toiled in his efforts to get his team to replicate their performances of a year earlier and was too often let down by misfiring key players like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Luis Alberto and Ciro Immobile.
While dips in form are to be expected, the Aquile squad simply didn’t possess the quality in reserve to keep the results coming while its most talented players struggled.
New signings Milan Badelj, Riza Durmisi and Valon Berisha failed to make much impression at all, while the club’s failure to bring in a back-up for Immobile was felt and the defence chopped and changed regularly.
League form also suffered from the fact that the club went all the way in the Coppa Italia and progressed to the knockout stages of the Europa League.
What this season – and last, for that matter – has shown, is that in order to fight on three fronts an injection of quality to boost the overall level of the squad is badly needed over the summer.
Igli Tare must deliver the goods this summer
However, last summer’s mercato as a whole will be remembered as a disappointment. A ‘vice-Immobile’ has been needed for two years now, while the defence required strengthening beyond the one-in-one-out swap of Acerbi for De Vrij.
The right wing-back slot was another position clearly in need of reinforcement and it took until January for Romulo to be brought in on loan.
Much more was expected of Badelj, Berisha and Durmisi and sporting director Igli Tare must do a lot better in the forthcoming transfer window to get this team competing for the top four.
The Albanian has deservedly earned much credit for bringing in the likes of Lucas Leiva, Milinkovic-Savic, Immobile and Alberto on great value deals over recent years, but if last summer showed anything it’s that spending a little more can reap greater rewards; it’s not a coincidence that the two most expensive signings, Acerbi and Correa, had the greatest impact.
The next generation are ready for more
There was good news from the youth sector as the Lazio Primavera side returned to Italy’s top youth division at the first time of asking after their relegation last season.
Two members of that team, Nicolo Armini and Luan Capanni, were given a run-out in the senior team this term, taking the number of youth team players given first-team debuts by Inzaghi up to 11.
Additionally, the fans finally got their first sight of highly-rated Portuguese youngsters Pedro Neto and Bruno Jordao, who showed enough in their brief cameos to suggest they can make an impact at first-team level in the future.
Inzaghi has never been afraid to give youth a chance and the evidence of this season suggests that some interesting players are waiting in the wings for their chance to break through.
A vice-Immobile is needed now more than ever
Felipe Caicedo has been one of the few success stories of Lazio’s season, fighting back from being a scapegoat blamed for Lazio’s failure to reach the Champions League places last season to achieve unexpected fan favourite status.
However, the Ecuadorian is not, and never has been, a direct replacement for Immobile, and the club’s inability to bring in another number nine to support and rotate with the Italy international proved to be a big mistake when Immobile hit the worst form of his time at Lazio.
Since the turn of the year the striker has looked a shadow of himself and while he still ended the season with a creditable 19-goal haul, his run of five goals in 17 Serie A games in 2019 showed yet again that genuine competition is needed in this vital role.
Simone Inzaghi has reached breaking point
The end of the season left a bitter taste in the mouth for Lazio fans, not only because of the lowly league finish but also the uncertainty surrounding Inzaghi’s future.
In the immediate aftermath of the Coppa Italia victory, the coach hit back at his critics and spoke of feeling unsupported during difficult times over the course of the season.
President Claudio Lotito’s public claims that the team was underperforming and failing to meet its objectives appeared to be ringing in his ears.
Now he’s won a major trophy, Inzaghi is stuttering over committing to a new contract. He refused to speak to the media for the final two league matches of the season and is asking Lotito for assurances over summer signings before agreeing to extension.
With Milan and Juventus believed to have his name on their respective shortlists as they hunt for a new coach, there is a very real chance that the former striker’s 20-year long relationship with the capital club could be coming to an end – unless the Lazio hierarchy are willing to properly back him.
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