What a year it’s been for Lazio. The 2019/20 season will never be forgotten due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but for Aquile fans a whirlwind league campaign and long-awaited return to the Champions League will stick in the memory too.
Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to grade the efforts of the capital club.
The Serie A campaign: A-
A bitterly disappointing season finale is still fresh in the memory. Lazio were a shadow of their former selves when they returned from the three-month break and fell from one point off the Serie A summit to fourth place.
Nevertheless, the season as a whole must be regarded as a success. A top four finish ended a 13-year wait for the club to book a place in the group stages of the Champions League again, while records were smashed along the way: the club’s highest-ever points total (78), most wins in a single season (24), longest unbeaten run (21), and longest winning run (11).
But it’s the special moments that will stick in the memory. The first league win away to AC Milan in 30 years, the comeback home victories over Juventus and Inter, the jaw-dropping selection of Curva Nord choreographies, Felipe Caicedo’s 98th-minute winner against Cagliari.
The season up until the suspension of football was undoubtedly worthy of an A+, but six defeats after the restart has to lower the score.
The cups: B-
There is little doubt that Lazio’s memorable league campaign was helped by their poor efforts in cup competitions, particularly the Europa League.
Simone Inzaghi chose to field a heavily rotated side for most group stage matches, and the lack of squad depth was highlighted as they were knocked out from a group containing Celtic, Rennes and Cluj. This squad depth issue would come back to bite them later on, when the fixtures and injuries piled up in the summer months.
Their Coppa Italia defence was another disappointment. An easy win over Serie B side Cremonese in the last 16 was followed by defeat to eventual winners Napoli.
Lazio’s grade for the cups has been raised to a B- thanks to a superb performance in the Supercoppa Italiana in December, when they beat Juventus 3-1 for the second time in two weeks to ensure they had some silverware to celebrate this season.
The coach: A
The continued growth of Simone Inzaghi, now Lazio’s longest-serving coach, has been remarkable to witness. This season, his team’s mentality was notably strengthened as they made a habit of coming from behind to win and achieved some terrific results in the big matches, beating Juventus, Inter, AC Milan and Napoli.
His tactical system got the best out of playmaker Luis Alberto and striker Ciro Immobile, while he has overseen big improvements from previously average players like Patric and Felipe Caicedo. The sense of unity that Inzaghi cultivates has helped them hugely – he has become a father figure and a mentor to many of these players.
The one criticism of him remains his stubbornness to experiment or change the way the team he plays when things aren’t working out. During the frantic tail end of the season, he preferred to pick exhausted key players rather than try out fresh, untested bench options as his side toiled.
But this is part of the Inzaghi package; his faith in his star men gets the best out of them when they’re flying, and is unwavering when they struggle.
The team: A
There have been some superb individual performances across the Lazio squad this season, with the likes of Francesco Acerbi, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Manuel Lazzari enjoying excellent seasons.
But two players stood head and shoulders above the rest: Alberto and Immobile. Alberto’s creative vision has been unleashed in a deeper midfield role, and he finished the season with the most assists in the division, 15.
Immobile was the greatest beneficiary of that lethal passing range, and had the season of his life. With 36 goals, the Italy international equalled Gonzalo Higuain’s single-season scoring record in Serie A, won his third capocannoniere crown and became the first Italian to clinch the European Golden Boot in 13 years.
The lack of quality in depth became apparent as the fixtures piled up towards the end of the season, but the development of players like Patric and Caicedo was hugely encouraging after difficult starts to life in Rome for the pair.
The transfer business: B-
Igli Tare’s reputation as a transfer guru was saved somewhat by the superb Lazzari, after an otherwise poor year on the transfer front.
The right wing-back slotted into the side perfectly, bringing much-needed balance and energy to the team.
But his fellow summer arrivals haven’t impressed. Jony was always going to need time to adapt from a winger to a wing-back, but he has been poor defensively and failed to offer enough in attack.
Lazio spent around €11 million on centre-back Denis Vavro, but a year later Inzaghi still doesn’t trust him enough to give him a starting berth. The Slovakian has often looked nervous and uncomfortable playing out from the back, but Tare can only hope he improves with a season of adaptation under his belt.
It has been a long and complex season for Lazio, but by the end their stated objective had been achieved: a top four finish.
The fact that the Scudetto was there for the taking before a late-season collapse will leave a sour taste in the mouth, but at the start of the season there is no doubt that laziali would’ve signed up for fourth place, a Supercoppa Italiana win, a European Golden Boot crown for Immobile, and club records for points, wins, and unbeaten and winning runs.
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