Five big questions facing Lazio and Roma ahead of a momentous Rome Derby

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The biggest fixture on the Roman football calendar returns on Sunday, when Roma look to close the gap on their high-flying neighbours Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico.

But what are the major talking points?

1. How will Lazio cope with the favourites tag?

Derby matches are synonymous with clichés about the ‘form book going out the window’, but the Roman version has helped prove that adage to be true over the years.

You don’t have to look too far to find examples of the team in worse form winning the Derby della Capitale, but rarely has the gap between the two sides’ form been as pronounced as it is going into Sunday’s meeting. Continue reading

Lazio face test of squad depth as fixtures, injuries and suspensions pile up

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Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi is currently undergoing one of his biggest tests of the season.

That may seem like an odd thing to read, given that his team have forgotten how to lose; last weekend’s victory over Napoli marked a club record 10th league win in a row.

In that time, they’ve ended a 30-year wait to beat AC Milan at San Siro in Serie A, a 16-year winless run at home to Juventus in the league and most recently a six-match losing run against Napoli.

It’s tempting to think Lazio can just plug in and play at the moment, that Inzaghi has little more to do than send his team out on the pitch with the instructions: “Same again, lads”.

But the coach’s skill in keeping this run going shouldn’t be underestimated – and his biggest challenge could be just around the corner.

Lazio aren’t blessed with a squad boasting enormous strength in depth, and the loss of one undisputed starter can have a big impact on the way they perform.

Inzaghi already lost his hugely influential midfield pair Lucas Leiva and Luis Alberto through suspension for the trip to Brescia at the start of the year, and their absence was felt as Lazio toiled before snatching another late win.

Captain Senad Lulic is suspended for Sampdoria’s visit on Saturday, while Francesco Acerbi and Stefan Radu will miss the following weekend’s Rome Derby if they pick up another booking.

Danilo Cataldi, who is also one yellow card away from suspension, has been ruled out for almost three weeks with an injury sustained during the midweek Coppa Italia win over Cremonese, while Joaquin Correa hasn’t recovered in time to face Samp and joins long-term absentees Adam Marusic and Jordan Lukaku in the stands.

With the injuries and suspensions piling up, much is being asked of few.

Saturday’s clash with Claudio Ranieri’s side will be the third game in a run of six matches in 15 days for the Biancocelesti, and another five are yet to come before 9 February.

The routine 4-0 win over Serie B opposition on Tuesday evening highlighted the lack of quality in depth that Inzaghi has available to him, regardless of the handsome scoreline.

Ciro Immobile, Acerbi and Luiz Felipe were all handed starting spots yet again, despite clearly being in a position where they would benefit from some rest.

The reserve players brought in to the Lazio XI from the bench included the likes of Bastos, Patric and Bobby Adekanye. They all performed well, but they are expected to be comfortable against this level of opposition.

Comparatively, some of the squad rotations rolled out by Inter and Juventus this week included bringing in Alexis Sanchez, Diego Godin, Valentino Lazaro, Gonzalo Higuain, Daniele Rugani and Federico Bernardeschi.

That, in a nutshell, is why any talk of Lazio competing for the Scudetto is premature.

Lazio’s strongest XI is the third-best in Serie A, but these players aren’t superhuman and they’ll be running on fumes or risking injury if they are made to continue at this frantic pace for much longer.

This is where Lazio’s early elimination from the Europa League may turn out to be a blessing in disguise; this busy stage of the season has tripped them up before, but now they have more time between league games to recover and work on details.

The question now is whether Claudio Lotito will choose to do something very uncharacteristic and open his chequebook during the January transfer window.

Lazio’s attack is threadbare in terms of options, and always has been. Immobile’s sensational form over the last three-and-a-half seasons has helped gloss over this fact, but the recent injury to Correa has highlighted the lack of options once again: Felipe Caicedo and Adekanye are the only other natural attackers in the squad.

Striker Lamin Jallow has been heavily linked with a move from Salernitana, Lotito’s other club, but how the 24-year-old will adapt to the demands of a Serie A Champions League race is a complete unknown.

Inzaghi is a fan of SPAL’s Alberto Paloschi, but he is another player who is unlikely to get fans off their seats in excitement.

Matias Vecino of Inter is perhaps the most interesting, high-profile player Lazio are considering for a mid-season move, but the signing would make little sense as it would only increase options in what is already the most competitive area of the squad, central midfield.

For now, this incredible wave of momentum should hopefully be enough to carry Lazio forward.

Inzaghi’s skill in the rotation and selection of his squad so far shouldn’t be underestimated, but the biggest test is yet to come.

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Ending Napoli curse could be watershed moment in Lazio’s Champions League chase

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It’s all too easy to get lost in football statistics nowadays.

For followers of Lazio, this has been truer than ever of late. Every match, every win, every goal, seems to set a new historic landmark or shatter some long-standing record.

Among the avalanche of numbers and information that has tumbled from the slipstream of the Roman club’s nine-match winning run in Serie A was an important moment for Simone Inzaghi.

The Lazio coach had never beaten his Juventus counterpart Maurizio Sarri until December’s thrilling 3-1 victory at the Stadio Olimpico, only to then go and repeat the feat just two weeks later to win the Supercoppa Italiana in Riyadh.

Continue reading

From scapegoat to super-sub: How Felipe Caicedo became an unlikely Lazio talisman

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In Italy, it’s called the ‘Zona Cesarini’. In Rome, it’s fast becoming known as the ‘Zona Caicedo’.

The expression refers to the dying moments of a game, and derives from former Juventus midfielder Renato Cesarini’s knack for scoring very late goals back in the 1930s.

Ninety years later, Lazio striker Felipe Caicedo is becoming comparably synonymous with a special ability to put the ball in the net when all seems lost.

The Ecuadorian has three goals in his last three Serie A games. That’s good form for a striker by any standards, but it becomes an exceptional return when you consider that the earliest he entered any of those matches was the 79th minute.

Continue reading

Lazio won’t win the Scudetto – but that doesn’t mean their herculean efforts don’t deserve celebration

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Lazio’s win over Juventus on Saturday was a statement.

Coming from behind to become the first team to beat Maurizio Sarri’s side this season certainly peaked the attention of any dozy onlookers who hadn’t noticed the momentum building on the blue side of Rome.

The result spoke volumes about the progress this team is making. And it spoke loudly.

It said that Simone Inzaghi’s side are no flat-track bullies, that this is a team capable of beating anyone on their day.

It said that the days of flopping on the big occasion, of failing to respond to adversity, of choking at crucial moments, are behind them. Continue reading

Ciro Immobile’s on fire: Putting the form of Europe’s hottest striker in context

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It’s not often that a striker’s form gets so good that it’s almost embarrassing.

But that was exactly how it felt on Sunday when Joaquin Correa was tripped inside the Udinese box to give Lazio their second penalty kick of the first half.

At that point, Lazio were cruising with a two-goal lead. Both goals had, of course, been scored by Ciro Immobile.

The second of those was from the penalty spot, which Immobile dispatched expertly – an underrated part of his game, and not the only one. Continue reading

Lazio’s sensational form is no coincidence – they’ve fixed two long-standing issues

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Nothing beats a late winner.

That’s what Lazio have learned lately, most recently when Felipe Caicedo swivelled his hips and fired a shot into the bottom corner to snatch victory at Sassuolo last weekend.

It was a crucial goal, one that saw the capital club pull two points clear of Roma and Cagliari in third place and continue their outstanding domestic form with a fifth consecutive Serie A victory.

But after the dust settled, there was another great positive to take from the game. Continue reading

Time for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to wake up from hibernation and join in the fun at Lazio

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Lazio passed their autumn test with flying colours.

A demanding run of league fixtures between the October and November international breaks, interspersed with Europa League outings, promised to be the make-or-break moment of the season for Simone Inzaghi’s side after a mixed start.

It’s safe to say that taking 13 points from a possible 15 in games against Atalanta, Fiorentina, Torino, Milan and Lecce exceeded expectations.

Not only that, but it left the Biancocelesti in third place, albeit on goal difference, restoring their Champions League dream. Continue reading

Lazio are flying high again – but are they too dependent on Ciro Immobile?

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It never ceases to amaze how quickly moods shift and narratives change in football.

This time last week, the critics were sharpening their knives as Lazio headed back from Glasgow, having thrown away a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 for the third time this season against Celtic.

It extended the club’s winless run to three games and left the Biancocelesti with a fairly bleak outlook in Serie A and in the Europa League.

But a 2-1 win away to Fiorentina on Sunday was followed by the capital club’s best performance of the season on Wednesday, as they blew away Torino with a magnificent 4-0 victory in Rome. Continue reading

Lazio don’t need a change of coach – but they do need their coach to change

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It would’ve been painful, if it wasn’t so predictable.

As Christopher Jullien flew through the Glasgow night sky towards an inswinging corner, every Lazio fan knew what was coming before it happened.

The Lazio defence stood gazing in admiration at the defender as he rose. Bang. 2-1 Celtic. One minute to go. Inevitable.

It was the third time this season that Lazio have blown a 1-0 half time lead to lose 2-1, after similar debacles against Cluj and SPAL.

When they’re not doing that, they’re coming from behind twice and missing a stoppage time penalty to draw with Bologna, or mounting a frankly ridiculous comeback from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 with Atalanta. Continue reading