Old habits die hard. But what if they refuse to die at all?
That, sadly, appears to be the reality facing Lazio after a week in which a familiar trait reared its ugly head twice in the space of five days.
In mirror-image matches, Lazio took the lead away to technically inferior sides, SPAL in Serie A and Cluj in the Europa League, before whimpering to a pair of 2-1 defeats.
Technically inferior they may be, but those teams taught Simone Inzaghi’s men a lesson in the importance of desire and character.
But what’s the point in even attending lessons if you’re not going to learn?
Lazio in 2019 are like a moody teenager, showing glimpses of their talent to the teachers before sulking or getting distracted.
And just like those kids who drag their feet to school with no intention of taking anything in, Inzaghi and his team appear to have no interest in self-improvement.
SECOND HALF STRUGGLES
First, a look at some grim numbers. Since the turn of the year, Lazio have surrendered 25 points in all competitions during the second half.
Those include (deep breath): Leading Genoa 1-0 to lose 2-1, leading Fiorentina 1-0 to draw 1-1, conceding a 90th minute penalty to lose away to SPAL, taking the lead against Atalanta before losing 3-1 and leading Bologna 1-0 before drawing 3-3.
Against SPAL on Sunday, Lazio had seven shots in the first half, 0 in the second. In terms of chances created they led 6-4 in the opening 45 minutes and lost 10-1 after the break.
Four days later – and after a barrage of criticism – they put in an almost identical performance. Lazio had nine shots in the first half and four in the second – three of which came during stoppage time while in desperation mode. Cluj’s attempts on goal increased from two to six between the two halves.
The fact that this week has brought two fresh second-half collapses is a source of immense frustration for several reasons.
After all, they started very brightly with a 3-0 win over an admittedly poor Sampdoria before being held 1-1 against Roma in a game they were unlucky not to win.
INZAGHI DODGES THE ISSUE
Inzaghi suggested after committing his future to the club over the summer that things would change this season.
It was time to stop crying over being the victims when it came to the top four race and get on the front foot instead. He said he had started “a new era with even more conviction.”
But the coach’s familiar reaction to this week’s results was the greatest frustration of all.
He has rightly been questioned for some of the tactical decisions he made; dropping in-form pair Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Joaquin Correa for SPAL, leaving Ciro Immobile, Luis Alberto and Stefan Radu at home for the journey to Romania and making ineffective substitutions.
But it’s his words that set alarm bells ringing.
Before the trip to SPAL he warned that “a normal performance isn’t enough in Ferrara”, adding that “we learned that the hard way” with last season’s defeat.
His actions didn’t back up his comments, though. He dropped two of his best players for no apparent reason and failed to instil the slightest bit of determination into his players despite ample opportunity; he addressed them at half time while 1-0 up and again during a cooling break with 15 minutes to go and the scoreline delicately poised at 1-1.
After the game, Inzaghi was determined to go down the usual line of arguing that the world was against him rather than shouldering responsibility.
He mentioned that “we only got 25 minutes wrong” when asked about another ‘blackout’, the term that has come up so frequently in relation to Lazio over the last two years.
But this was no blackout – this was an abject, spineless display for more than half of the game.
“We have to learn from our mistakes,” he lamented. “We accepted to much praise and got distracted”.
Those were infuriating enough comments as it was, considering the fact that Lazio failed to learn from any of their previously mentioned mistakes.
But to then put in an equally presumptuous, heartless second half performance just four days later is a real cause for concern and a sign that the attitude problem isn’t being taken seriously enough.
Inzaghi claimed afterwards that Lazio “deserved more”, that this is “often the case”.
Surely by now he must realise that football doesn’t abide by those rules, that the mark of a good team is to see out results, to pick up points no matter what.
He claimed Cluj’s opening goal wasn’t a penalty (he might have a point) before delivering the baffling comment: “If we’d gone 2-0 up, we wouldn’t have had these issues”. If your aunt had balls, she’d be your uncle.
A coach standing up for his players is to be applauded at times. But after a week like this Inzaghi was well within his rights to give his players a public kick up the backside. He got things wrong, but ultimately his players let him down badly too.
What’s more, the fans are tired of hearing excuses for these performances. Accepting that there is a problem and seeking ways to address it would make most of them much happier than pointing out certain moments of an abject performance that could’ve edged the result your way against a team you should be beating comfortably in the first place.
This week raises plenty of questions about Lazio. There is a lack of leadership on the pitch and there is an ugly arrogance when facing lowly teams that hasn’t been earned and that no big team should possess.
There’s no doubting the talent in Inzaghi’s squad and they are no less likely to go on and beat Inter next week than they were before this happened.
But if this is supposed to be a new era, if this is supposed to be the year they finally crack the top four, Inzaghi simply has to stop skirting around the issue and find a way to instil some desperately needed backbone into his squad.
How well do you know Italian football? Want to challenge the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? Play www.fantasyseriea.com now!