It’s time to address the elephant in the room: something isn’t quite right with Luis Alberto this season.
After Ciro Immobile, the Spaniard has been the most influential player for Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio in recent years.
His output has been phenomenal since he was moved into a central role in 2017/18 following a difficult debut season on the wing.
Since then, he’s scored 26 goals and provided 42 assists in 136 games for the Roman club, ranking him among European football’s most efficient creative midfielders in that period.
Lazio’s route to goal has often been as predictable as it is unstoppable in recent seasons: Alberto plays the pass, Immobile applies the finish.
But this magical combination has lost its lustre somewhat since the coronavirus pandemic brought football to halt back in March.
Alberto has now produced just one assist in his last 19 games for Lazio and he is yet to set up a single goal this season.
On top of that, the 28-year-old managed to create controversy by criticising his employers for failing to pay their players properly as they paraded their new club aeroplane, an incident that left owner Claudio Lotito furious and caused division in the ranks.
FIGURES TELL A STORY
Football is a complex game and it would be unfair and untrue to claim that Alberto has been in consistently poor form throughout this barren run.
But the Spaniard has set extremely high standards over the last few seasons and he must now be measured against his own demanding benchmarks.
The numbers show that Alberto’s influence isn’t what it once was. In Serie A this season compared to last, he has produced fewer key passes (2.5 per game vs 2.9 in 2019/20), fewer shots per game (2.1 vs 2.7), completed fewer passes (79.1% success rate vs 83.5%) and been dispossessed more regularly (1.9 times per game vs 1.3).
These figures don’t suggest a catastrophic drop in performance so much as a momentary dip, and Alberto can be forgiven that after producing at such a high level for so long.
Plus, it’s worth pointing out that he’s still creating far more chances than any other player in the Lazio squad.
The next highest average rates in the squad for key passes are Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (1.2), Ciro Immobile and Joaquin Correa (both 1.1).
Where there’s room for improvement for the Spaniard, there could also be an opportunity for Andreas Pereira.
The Brazilian was brought in on loan from Manchester United in the summer to offer Inzaghi an alternative to Alberto, the second creative, attack-minded midfielder that he had previously lacked.
Pereira has so far been restricted largely to cameos from the bench, with seven of his eight outings in a blue shirt coming as a substitute.
But with Alberto struggling to find his best form and Lazio facing a momentous Champions League clash against Club Brugge in Rome next week, Saturday’s clash with Spezia could be the perfect opportunity for Inzaghi to hand a start to Pereira.
The 24-year-old made a striking impact from the bench in the midweek 1-1 draw at Borussia Dortmund as he was denied a spectacular last-minute winner by goalkeeper Roman Burki, who got his fingertips to a dipping free-kick.
It hasn’t been easy for the loanee to make an impact, as he’s been given just 100 minutes of playing time in Serie A.
Nevertheless, the Belgium-born midfielder broke his duck with a well-taken strike against Torino in his only league start for the club so far.
He’s also demonstrated that he can do more than simply act as Alberto’s deputy this season, as he has been used in the forward line to support Immobile too.
This was where Inzaghi deployed him in Dortmund during the week, and with Vedat Muriqi out injured and Correa and Immobile potentially needing a rest before the Brugge game, Pereira could eye an opportunity to start in a more advanced role against Spezia.
Lazio cannot afford another to slip up again, as they did against Udinese last weekend, and the pressure is on Inzaghi to effectively rotate and motivate his side through a demanding run of six games in three weeks.
It will be testing for the legs and for the minds, but for Pereira it could finally present an opportunity to show he has something to offer in the starting XI at his new club.
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