It’s time to go again already? Well yes, and Lazio are actually arriving late to the party.
Simone Inzaghi’s men are back in action on Saturday when they hop across the Mediterranean to Sardinia to take on a Cagliari side led by former Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco.
Lazio’s delay in getting underway was down to the fact that their week one fixture with Atalanta was postponed by 10 days; La Dea were allowed some extra preparation time due to their late 2019/20 finish on Champions League duties.
Where were we?
Lazio’s 2019/20 campaign was a story of two parts: pre-coronavirus and post-coronavirus.
Before football ground to a halt, Inzaghi’s side were flying. Lazio were on a club record 21-match unbeaten run and playing the best football in Italy as they moved just one point behind leaders Juventus.
But the Biancocelesti dealt with the aftermath of months of lockdown worse than almost any other team, returning in dreadful shape and even worse form and sliding down to fourth place.
That outcome was by no means a disaster, as ending a 13-year wait for Champions League football was the objective from the outset – but fans will always wonder what could’ve been.
An outstanding season from Ciro Immobile played a huge part in the capital club’s success; the Italy international scored 36 Serie A goals to equal Gonzalo Higuain’s single-season league record and clinch the European Golden Boot.
Champions League football is the big one. Lazio last graced the group stages of European football’s showcase tournament in 2007, and have been through no end of pain in their efforts to get back there over recent years.
They will go into Pot 3 for the draw next week, and the fans and players alike will relish the prospect of testing themselves against the continent’s biggest and best teams.
Pre-season was short, but Lazio managed to get some time in their usual training base of Auronzo di Cadore in the Dolomites.
Their performances in friendly games weren’t hugely promising: narrow wins over lower-league opponents Padova, Vicenza and Frosinone were followed by a 0-0 draw with Serie A new boys Benevento last weekend.
But the biggest pre-season talking points came off the pitch. Firstly, a deal was agreed for Manchester City playmaker David Silva to join the club, only for the Spaniard to perform a U-turn and unexpectedly head to Real Sociedad instead.
It was a gut punch for the Romans, and sporting director Igli Tare responded with a sour statement that said he had “respect for the footballer, but not the man”.
More controversy followed when Francesco Acerbi decided that a post-match interview while on Italy duty was the right moment to complain about his contract situation.
After the a flurry of fury, debate and conjecture, the situation appears to have calmed down and a new deal could soon be arranged for the key centre-back.
Who’s in and who’s out?
Given how long Lazio have waited to return to the Champions League, there was much intrigue about the transfer business they would do this summer to bolster a squad that had already been exposed for its lack of depth during the fast and furious Serie A run-in.
So far, it’s been a little underwhelming. A deal to sign Eibar midfielder Gonzalo Escalante on a free transfer was agreed last season and he arrived in time for Auronzo, while Pepe Reina was brought in on loan to challenge Thomas Strakosha.
A €20m deal for Fenerbahce striker Vedat Muriqi was eventually struck, but the Kosovan has since tested positive for Covid-19 in Turkey and will be in quarantine for the first few matches of the season. He is asymptomatic.
Mohamed Fares has arrived from SPAL, but there has been a delay in confirming the deal for the wing-back despite him training with Inzaghi’s squad.
The Algerian will provide some much-needed competition for ageing captain Senad Lulic on the left wing, but there are still some holes Lazio need to fill before the market closes.
A new centre-back is desperately needed to deputise for Stefan Radu, and the return of Wesley Hoedt from Southampton looks likely at the time of writing.
An alternative to Luis Alberto in midfield would also be a welcome addition for what will be a hectic season ahead.
Lazio have succeeded in finding moves for unwanted players Valon Berisha, Jony and Milan Badelj, but there is still some work to do on that front.
The club has struggled to move on Bastos, while the likes of Silvio Proto, Wallace, Riza Durmisi, Davide Di Gennaro and Djavan Anderson are still earning their salaries despite not being in Inzaghi’s plans.
What will 2020/21 bring?
The European campaign is the biggest novelty that lies ahead, and the culmination of years of hard work from Inzaghi and his squad.
They will want to ensure they have a good showing in that tournament, having worked so hard to get there.
It will be a big test of the squad depth that was often lamented last term. Inzaghi’s struggle to effectively rotate his team was exposed on two separate occasions: during the disastrous Europa League campaign, where Lazio were eliminated in the group stage, and after the coronavirus-enforced break.
However, Lazio have a good enough squad to finish in the top four again this season and that will again be the objective.
After all, the same coach and group of players that launched an unexpected Scudetto bid last term are still in place.
But much of their success will depend on Inzaghi’s management of rotation and how he can keep his players fit, healthy and motivated.
Should a left-sided defender and creative midfielder come in, there will be at least two competitive options for every position on the pitch in Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 for the first time in his tenure. Over to you, Simone.
How well do you know Italian football? Want to challenge the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? Play www.fantasyseriea.com now!