The finale of Lazio’s Serie A clash with Juventus last weekend was about as Hollywood as football gets.
With the Roman club trailing 1-0 and a matter of seconds left on the clock, coach Simone Inzaghi grabbed Adam Marusic to turn him upfield, just as the wing-back was about to send a throw-in into his own half that would’ve ended the game.
From that moment, there was no doubt what would happen next; the Ecuadorian, with his back to goal, swivelled and curled a low shot into the bottom corner with the last kick of the game.
The reason the outcome appeared inevitable once the ball found Caicedo’s feet is simple: this is what he does.
A WEEK TO REMEMBER
The Ecuadorian hasn’t always had an easy time at Lazio, particularly during a difficult debut season, and his underdog story has previously been covered in these pages.
He became a cult hero with dramatic late winners against Cagliari and Sassuolo last season, and that status was confirmed in a remarkable week leading up the Juventus game.
In the space of seven days, Caicedo was decisive as an impact substitute three times, scoring a 98th-minute winner against Torino, an 82nd-minute leveller away to Zenit in the Champions League and then a 94th minute equaliser against the Old Lady.
“I don’t know how he does it, there’s no logical explanation,” said Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi after the draw with Juventus.
Caicedo himself was typically eager to deflect any praise after the game, simply saying: “we’re a team, we’ve shown that once again, we’re more of a team than Juventus”.
But his remarkable run of decisive entries onto the pitch didn’t go unnoticed, and former Lazio and Inter striker Christian Vieri even urged Antonio Conte to bring the 32-year-old to San Siro.
“If I was a director at Inter I would immediately go and talk to Caicedo,” he said.
“He knows how to play the role of 12th man. I would say to him ‘you’re the vice-Lukaku, come join us’”.
NEVER GIVE UP
Caicedo’s array of late and decisive interventions puts him in celebrated company. The period between the 90th minute and the end of a match is known as the “Cesarini Zone” in Italy, in reference to former Juventus and Italy striker Renato Cesarini’s habit of finding the net in the dying moments.
But that cultural reference might need to be rewritten now. Caicedo’s strike against Juventus was his sixth goal after the 90th minute since his move to Italy, one more than Cesarini managed.
What’s more, five of Caicedo’s strikes have proved decisive for the result of the match. Since the start of last season, no player in Serie A has scored more than his five strikes from the 90th minute onwards, and that tally accounts for 42% of his total league goals for Lazio in that period.
However, although the former Espanyol man’s penchant for late drama deserves to be celebrated, it’s worth highlighting that it’s the result of a never-say-die attitude that has become a fundamental part of Lazio’s identity over the last 18 months.
Lazio have won 33 points from losing positions since the start of last season, the most in Europe’s top five leagues, three more than Atalanta and five more than Liverpool.
Caicedo is often the substitute who is brought on to provide fresh legs up front and makes the biggest impact in the final few minutes, but he is right to praise the attitude of his team-mates as they’ve proven to be equally unwilling to give up on a result in any circumstances.
Lazio’s most remarkable example was fighting back from a 3-0 half time deficit to draw 3-3 with Atalanta last season, a result and performance that was later referred to by members of the squad as being a key moment in instilling the belief and momentum needed to launch a club record 21-match unbeaten run.
When Caicedo is on the pitch, there is always hope. But the decisive contributions of the ‘panther’ are the result of Inzaghi instilling a winning mentality to his side that could again prove crucial to their ambitions in the season ahead.
How well do you know Italian football? Want to challenge the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? Play www.fantasyseriea.com now!