It was a sign of the times that a 0-0 draw against Udinese felt like progress for Lazio.
A run of three consecutive defeats against Milan, Lecce and Sassuolo ended the Roman club’s Scudetto dream, as they struggled to rediscover the swagger that was on show earlier in the season.
But taking a point in Udine stopped the rot – at least to a certain extent. The first half display was particularly positive as Lazio played at a higher tempo, asked more questions of the opposition defence and dominated possession.
But the familiar issue of tired legs and minds crept in after the break, and in the end Simone Inzaghi’s side had goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha and the post to thank for keeping out an improved Udinese.
The stalemate ultimately highlighted that, while several parts of the team showed improvement, Lazio’s strikers are still miles off the pace.
The Biancocelesti fired 16 shots at goal against Udinese, only two of which landed on target and only one of which truly tested Juan Musso. In contrast, the hosts mustered 14 efforts and forced Strakosha into five stops.
A clean sheet was welcome for the Romans, but the result left little doubt about their reliance on Ciro Immobile since the restart.
The Italy international’s performance was poor against the Zebrette. He was full of running, but lacked much clarity in his decision-making, while his first touch regularly let him down; a sign of a player who is physically and mentally drained.
Immobile got just two shots away, half the number of midfielders Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, while his strike partner Felipe Caicedo was even less effective, mustering just one effort at goal.
This is the first time Immobile has gone three consecutive Serie A games without scoring since May 2019, and it continued a post-break trend.
When Lazio’s top scorer finds the net, they win (Fiorentina, Torino). When he doesn’t, they don’t (Atalanta, Lecce, Sassuolo, Udinese). He was suspended against Milan, and the Aquile lost 3-0.
The problem for coach Inzaghi is the same as always. He doesn’t have a valid Immobile alternative in his squad, and never has.
With Caicedo also out of form and Joaquin Correa injured, Inzaghi’s only other option up front is young Bobby Adekanye.
The 21-year-old has looked lively and carved out some good chances in his cameos from the bench, but he won’t be the man to turn around Lazio’s flailing form. Immobile could be.
To put a positive spin on things, Monday’s trip to Turin to face Juventus can be looked at as the perfect opportunity for the striker to to end his slump.
There will be a lingering sense of regret going into the match that it isn’t the Scudetto decider it promised to be when football restarted.
But victory for Lazio would be a big step towards Champions League qualification. Indeed, it would almost guarantee it.
If Roma lose to Inter and Lazio win in Turin, the only way they wouldn’t end their 13-year wait for a return to Europe’s biggest competition would be if they lose all their remaining games, Roma win all theirs, and the Lupi pull off a 16-goal swing in goal difference.
Additionally, the Juve clash is an opportunity for Immobile to end his dip in form in symbolic fashion.
The 30-year-old is now clinging on at the top of the capocannoniere charts by his fingernails with 29 goals, just one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Immobile wants to keep the Portuguese forward at bay, while he still has Robert Lewandowski’s 34-goal haul in his sights for the European Golden Boot.
The striker has shown little sign recently of returning to his devastating form of earlier this season, but he is a player who thrives on confidence and is coming up against a Juve side lacking just that.
Maurizio Sarri’s side are limping towards the title after picking up just two points from their last three games.
In that time, they’ve conceded nine goals. An average of three per game, for the mathematicians out there.
It feels strange to say, but a creaking Juve defence could offer Immobile the perfect platform to rediscover his confidence and eye for goal.
With two 3-1 victories already in the bag against the Old Lady this season in Serie A and the Supercoppa Italiana, there’s no reason Lazio shouldn’t believe. What better way to put a difficult period behind them?
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