At times on Wednesday evening, it was hard not to feel like you were experiencing extreme déjà vu.
Atalanta raced to a 3-0 halt time lead against Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico, only for the determined hosts to pull one back and spark hopes of an unlikely comeback.
Is this ringing a bell? That will be because Lazio recovered from three goals down to draw 3-3 in this fixture last season – but there were no heroics this time, as Atalanta struck a fourth to come away with a comfortable win.
However, it wasn’t just the events of the first half that were familiar. Both teams fielded starting line-ups that consisted entirely of players from their 2019/20 squads, and both sides were led by the same old coach playing the same old system.
For Atalanta, the momentum of a superb finish to 2019/20 has kept them flying into the new season, and they were ruthlessly efficient in front of goal to take a deserved win in Rome.
On another day, it could’ve been an evenly balanced encounter. Lazio had more shots on goal than their visitors, 14 to 10, and the same number on target, six, as well as having 61 per cent possession.
But they were as wasteful as La Dea were clinical, and a disappointing result defined by defensive lapses underlined that Simone Inzaghi’s side could do with a blast of fresh impetus and energy.
NEW PLAYERS, NEW ENTHUSIASM
It has been hard for the Biancocelesti to press the reset button after their late-season collapse in 2019/20, which saw them plummet from one point off top to fourth place.
A brief break was followed by a short pre-season, in which the players performed poorly in friendly matches, and the club failed to make any new signings available to their coach for week one other than midfielder Gonzalo Escalante and reserve goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
The delay in getting deals for players like Vedat Muriqi and Mohamed Fares over the line, combined with the absence of any high-profile additions after the David Silva fiasco, has resulted in a sour atmosphere at the season’s start.
But Inzaghi will soon have the new bodies he’s been crying out for. Muriqi, whose arrival was delayed after he tested positive for COVID-19, has finally arrived in Rome, and the long-awaited announcement that Fares is a Lazio player arrived on Thursday.
Andreas Pereira will soon complete a loan move from Manchester United, while Wesley Hoedt’s return to the capital club is expected to be confirmed once a departure is arranged for Bastos or Denis Vavro.
This flurry of additions will dramatically change Inzaghi’s options, handing him a new centre-back, wing-back, midfielder and striker.
But more importantly, it could blast a gust of new life into this team, something that could be needed to wake them up from their post-coronavirus break slumber and allow them to take on the campaign ahead with renewed enthusiasm and excitement.
The international break will give some of the new boys a chance to settle in and Inzaghi an opportunity to work out what his strongest side now looks like, but before then he has a headache to deal with when Inter visit Rome on Sunday.
The timing of the visit of Antonio Conte’s free-scoring side couldn’t be much worse for the capital club.
Not only are the new signings not yet available, but the existing options have already been badly depleted.
Stefan Radu picked up an injury during the defeat to Atalanta, and Joaquin Correa had to abandon his starting spot after hurting himself in the warmup.
The defence is the area of biggest concern, as Radu joins a list of absentees that already includes the injured Luiz Felipe and Denis Vavro.
Hoedt is yet to have his medical or train with the team and therefore won’t be an option. That leaves Francesco Acerbi and Patric as the only two fit, regular centre-backs available.
Bastos could be drafted into a starting role after weeks of the club trying to sell him, while the other options are 35-year-old midfielder Marco Parolo dropping back to fill in or untested teenager Nicolo Armini being thrown in at the deep end against Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Lautaro Martinez.
Only time will tell how damaging the tardiness of Lazio’s transfer dealings will be, but Inzaghi’s limited options in crucial games against top four rivals like Atalanta and Inter early in the season have ensured that the mood around the Biancocelesti’s new campaign is lower than they would’ve liked.
The hope is that the quartet of new signings – Muriqi, Fares, Pereira and Hoedt – and even a fifth if another defender can be secured before Monday’s deadline, can change the record and inject some much-needed enthusiasm once again.
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