The phrase ‘selection headache’ gets thrown around a lot in football journalism.
But it wouldn’t be a great surprise if the puzzle facing Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi on Saturday has had him reaching for the paracetamol.
The capital club came from behind to win for the second game in a row against Torino on Tuesday night, a result that kept Serie A leaders Juventus just four points away.
But their efforts came at a price, as strike partners Ciro Immobile and Felipe Caicedo picked up bookings that ruled them out of Saturday’s clash with AC Milan at the Stadio Olimpico through suspension.
The absence of Immobile will be particularly felt, given the Italy international has provided 29 of the Aquile’s 66 league goals this season, but Caicedo is their next top scorer with eight strikes.
To make matters worse, Joaquin Correa has struggled with injury problems that have reduced him to a bench spot for the last two matches, while fourth and fifth-choice strikers Bobby Adekanye and Raul Moro are both injured.
Given the lack of options, Correa is certain to start, although there are doubts over whether he will be able to complete 90 minutes.
The question of who will partner him in attack against the Rossoneri has intrigued fans all week and provides Inzaghi with a conundrum that has several potential solutions, ranging from the brave to the bizarre.
So; who might we see alongside Correa?
The technician: Luis Alberto
The idea of restoring Alberto to a trequartista role behind Correa looks the likeliest solution as things stand.
The Spaniard shone in that position during the 2017/18 season, providing 11 goals and 14 assists, before being moved into a deeper mezz’ala role in January 2019 that allowed him more space and time to dictate play.
He hasn’t returned to a traditional No.10 role since, and the chances of him doing so on Saturday are linked to the fitness of Danilo Cataldi.
The midfielder is struggling for fitness, but should be able to start, allowing Alberto to push on while ensuring that Inzaghi still has a playmaker on the pitch in a deeper position.
Alberto has been in terrific form since the return of football, with a goal and two assists to his name in three games, but there are a couple of concerns over his potential return to an attacking role.
Firstly, his success as a trequartista came with Immobile playing in front of him, a natural striker whose movement is his greatest quality. As a converted winger, Correa doesn’t possess the same instinct.
Secondly, Lazio launched 33 crosses into the box during their win over Torino and 29 against Fiorentina, counting on the delivery of Jony and Manuel Lazzari to cause problems. But neither Correa nor Alberto are strong in the air, and this strategy would likely be easily countered by Milan’s towering defence.
The big man: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
The giant Serbian has been used as an in-game auxiliary striker before, and his ability to push on and form a front three with the starting strikers is a big part of Inzaghi’s tactical blueprint.
Moving Milinkovic-Savic alongside Correa would form a classic little and large partnership, and could tempt Lazio into quick, direct passing.
The midfielder is superb in the air and can win nod-ons, hold the ball up, and get on the end of the aforementioned crosses. With a fierce shot and inventive passing range also in his arsenal, he possesses a lot of the abilities needed to perform well in this role.
But he’s never started a match for Lazio as a striker, and it would be asking a lot for him to adapt to an entirely new role in time for Saturday. Additionally, moving him forward comes at the cost of losing the impact of his dangerous forward runs from midfield.
The great unknown: Andre Anderson
You may not be familiar with the 20-year-old, and that’s forgivable. He arrived in Rome from Santos in the summer of 2018 before spending a season on loan at Salernitana, but since his return he’s struggled for game time.
The Brazilian will get far more opportunities in the season run-in than he has so far, but the fact remains that Anderson is almost completely untested at this level.
Inzaghi said earlier in the week that he believes the youngster can operate as a second striker, but his total experience of Serie A so far amounts to three substitute appearances for a total of 36 minutes.
Picking him could be the moment that makes the man, but it could equally highlight his rawness and inexperience.
The wildcard: Bastos
Yes, you read that correctly. Reports emerged earlier this week that the unpredictable centre-back could be tried out as an option up front by Inzaghi, impressed by his technical and athletic ability.
The Angolan has often looked more like a striker than a defender during his time in Rome, scoring some spectacular goals. He also made headlines recently with a solo effort during a training game, where he slalomed past four defenders before beating first-choice goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.
However, he did spectacularly fire over in front of an open goal during the game against Fiorentina last weekend, before his blushes were saved by the offside flag, a timely reminder that he isn’t exactly a natural.
It’s still hard to believe that Inzaghi would be so bold, but if Correa isn’t able to finish the full game and Lazio need a goal…could we see Marco van Bastos in action?
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