It’s been quite the summer of spending in Serie A, with many of the league’s big guns splashing out large sums to overhaul their squads ahead of the 2019/20 season.
That has never been Lazio’s style during Claudio Lotito’s presidency and although a reasonable amount of money has been invested in the market this summer, it has been put towards just three players: Denis Vavro, Jony and Manuel Lazzari.
The capital club’s dealings have been an example of intelligently conducted business in a market that so often leans more towards emotion and desperation than prudence and planning.
Simone Inzaghi’s side had several issues last season, but the performances of his wing-backs were chief among them. This was identified and the club were quick to act by bringing in Lazzari and Jony for a combined total of just €17 million.
It doesn’t take an awful lot of digging to see why these deals been astute and could be a game-changer in the way the team sets up when the new campaign kicks off next weekend.
At €15 million, Lazzari could prove to be one of Igli Tare’s best value-for-money signings. The Italian was superb at SPAL last season and earned his first Italy cap against Portugal in the UEFA Nations League as a reward.
At 25 years old his best years are ahead of him, while he possesses Serie A experience and the blend of diligence and quality that Inzaghi has been crying out for in the wide positions.
After a promising debut campaign, Adam Marusic struggled for form last season and Romulo arrived on loan in January to offer an alternative. The Genoa man’s efforts were commendable but the reality is that he’s not the profile of starter who takes a club to the Champions League. Lazzari could be.
Last season, Lazio scored just five goals from crosses in Serie A. That was the joint-lowest total in the league along with Fiorentina and the 10th lowest in Europe.
The wing-backs can’t be exclusively blamed for this, as they rely on strikers putting the ball in the net, while teams playing in a system using wingers are more likely to take this route to goal than a side like Lazio, who pose a greater threat in the central areas.
But a closer look reveals that the quality of deliveries that were being produced simply wasn’t good enough. In the overall ranking of completed crosses by wing-back/full-back combinations in Serie A last season Lazio were eighth, with Marusic and Senad Lulic producing a combined 53.
Marusic delivered just 16 successful crosses all season. To put that in context, Lazzari completed a league-high 69 – 16 more than the Montenegrin and Lulic combined.
SPAL admittedly used this route to goal more than most as their combination of Lazzari and Mohamed Fares produced the most completed crosses in the league with 102.
But Lazzari’s tally of eight assists, the fifth-highest in Serie A last season, shows that he wasn’t only finding targets but that his deliveries were directly leading to goals.
The 25-year-old’s quality is known to most regular viewers of Serie A by now, so perhaps a greater surprise to many readers will be the numbers that Jony brings with him from Malaga.
The Spaniard spent last season on loan with Alaves where he contributed 10 assists, the third-highest in La Liga.
He was second only to a certain Lionel Messi for chances created per match, with an average of 2.4.
And finally, he boasted the most completed crosses in the league with 72.
It should be noted that the 28-year-old was being deployed as a left winger, so his attacking statistics can be expected to be significantly higher than the likes of Lazio skipper Lulic.
He will need time to adapt to a wing-back role but the signs so far have been promising, especially at the tail end of pre-season when he scored against Al Shabab and set up Immobile for the opening goal against Celta Vigo.
Lulic has been a terrific servant to Lazio and is likely to continue to be Inzaghi’s first choice at the start of the season, but Jony will get his chances and if he can demonstrate defensive discipline, he will put real pressure on the Bosnian who turns 34 this season.
Signing the players who completed the most crosses in two of Europe’s major leagues last season is no coincidence – it demonstrates that Inzaghi will be looking to benefit from quality delivery from the wide areas in the coming campaign and his desire to bolster the squad with a target man before the end of the window hints further at that approach.
The quality Lazio possess in the central areas, where Ciro Immobile, Joaquin Correa, Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic combine in neat passing triangles, can draw in defences to leave the wide players with plenty of space to pick out a cross.
Perhaps the final pre-season friendly, a 2-1 win away to Celta Vigo, was a sign of things to come: Immobile scored both goals, with assists coming from a Jony cross from the left and a Lazzari cross from the right.
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