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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AC Milan 3-0 SPAL: Pioli’s men through to the quarter-finals with ease

AC Milan managed to follow up the win against Cagliari last weekend with yet another one this evening, beating SPAL with ease at the San Siro. Certainly, it was an encouraging performance by Pioli’s men, who now will face Torino ht quarter-finals of Coppa Italia. 

The Rossoneri started the game very well, immediately showing the away side their intentions for the evening. However, at least initially, SPAL managed to get past the Milan players despite the high line they faced. Pioli’s response? He ordered his players to push even further.  Continue reading

AC Milan vs. SPAL: Team news, stats and prediction

AC Milan managed to claim all three points (finally) away at Cagliari this weekend, scoring their first goal in three games. Certainly, the performance was an encouraging sign of what’s to come, should Stefano Pioli’s men be able to build on the display. 

As you would expect, Ibrahimovic was crucial for the Rossoneri, inspiring his new teammates. In addition to the Swede, Pioli also dared to switch things up with a new formation (the 4-4-2) and a few changes. For example, after the horrible outing against Sampdoria, he benched Suso in favour of Castillejo. Continue reading

Unpredictable Bastos provides timely reminder of improvement at Lazio

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The last week has served as a neat summary of the highs and lows of Bastos’ time at Lazio.

Last Wednesday in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta, the Angolan was entrusted with a starting spot ahead of the experienced Stefan Radu after playing a key role in the capital club’s cup run.

In the space of 36 minutes, the centre-back was booked for a reckless tackle, enraged the Bergamo club with a potential handball inside the box that was missed by match officials, and was substituted for Radu as coach Simone Inzaghi lost faith in the 28-year-old’s ability to avoid a second yellow card. Continue reading

Lazio must dust off chequebook to ward off Juventus interest in Simone Inzaghi

Simone Inzaghi

As the haze from the post-Coppa Italia celebrations begins to clear, some images are stronger than others.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic rising higher than anyone to head in the opener. Joaquin Correa bursting through the Atalanta defence to seal Lazio’s seventh win in the competition.

And Simone Inzaghi being lifted on the shoulders of his players after masterminding the 2-0 victory from the touchline.

It was the crowning achievement of Inzaghi’s tenure in charge of the Roman club and one that silenced the critics, who had started to emerge after an inconsistent season in which he failed to achieve the objective of Champions League qualification. Continue reading

Five points for Lazio to take from defeat in Coppa Italia final dress rehearsal

Ciro Immobile

The biggest game of Lazio’s season is now less than a week away and, after last weekend’s 3-1 defeat to Atalanta, they could be playing for more than just silverware.

The Serie A loss came at a cost, leaving the Roman club all-but out of the top four race but also in danger of missing out on a European spot altogether as they lie in eighth place.

Lifting the Coppa Italia trophy in the final next Wednesday night would not only restore a feel-good factor to a largely underwhelming campaign for the Roman club, but ensure them of a place in next season’s Europa League.

Facing their fellow finalists in the same venue just 10 days before the main event provided a rare and valuable opportunity to scout out potential strengths and weaknesses – so what lessons can Simone Inzaghi and his team learn from it? Continue reading

AC Milan 0-1 Lazio: The Rossoneri fail to reach Coppa Italia final

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Gattuso’s men didn’t create anything up front and were subsequently punished by Lazio, who snatched the ticket to the Coppa Italia final. Another disappointing result for Milan, who have a lot to work on ahead of Sunday’s clash with Torino. 

The early stages of the game offered poor play from both sides, as neither of them managed to get a grip of the game, which resulted in a lot of wasteful passes. However, eventually, Milan got a hold of the possession but failed to create chances up front, while Lazio looked dangerous on the counter attacks.

The Rossoneri’s first chance came after nearly 30 minutes of play. Calabria tried his luck with a left-footed effort on the edge of the box, and Strakosha had to stretch to reach the ball, which was destined for the bottom corner. In addition to this, Suso had an opportunity in the latter stages of the first half, but completely failed to hit the target with a disappointing effort.

Lazio had the final say of the first 45 as Correa linked up brilliantly with Immobile, starting on the left side. The former, however, was stopped by Pepe Reina in goal, who made a great save to keep his team in the game. The first half ended with everything still to play for in the second.

Both teams suffered two tough injuries, as Milinkovic-Savic and Calabria were subbed off. The latter received a knock and was replaced by Conti, while the Lazio star slipped and twisted his ankle in a nasty situation. For the Biancocelesti, it could potentially be devastating in the race for Champions League, should Milinkovic-Savic miss several games.

In the second half, Lazio really showed why they deserved to go through this evening. Reina kept Milan in the game on several occasions, making a few impressive saves in the process. Despite the warning signs, the Rossoneri were unable to respond, as Correa gave Lazio the lead after 58th minutes. A brilliant counter-attack was finished off by the Argentinian, and so Milan needed to score two goals.

Evidently, they failed to do so. In fact, they didn’t even get close, bar an offside goal by Cutrone. In other words, the performance was very disappointing, and the Rossoneri are clearly lacking creativity in the attacking phase. The formation change really didn’t help them either, as Lazio were able to run down the clock with ease, while Gattuso’s men tried to attack without any success.

Given that Juventus won’t be in the Coppa Italia final this year, it’s certainly a big chance missed for Milan. A trophy would’ve done the team well, even though Champions League obviously would’ve remained the primary target in any case. However, that is no excuse for putting in a poor display, especially when a spot in a final is on the line. Now a tough away clash against Torino awaits, one which is decisive for the target mentioned above.

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Federico Chiesa: Italy’s Latest Controversial Superstar

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Italian football are no strangers to their misunderstood and controversial superstars. Before Mario Balotelli emerged on the scene, there was Antonio Cassano. And before them came Roma’s iconic bad-boy Francesco Totti. While calcio’s latest exploit, Federico Chiesa, has done nowhere near enough to steal the headlines alongside these players, the Fiorentina winger is attracting attention for all the wrong reasons at the moment.

Since emerging through the ranks at Fiorentina, Chiesa has established himself as one of Italy’s elite talents and will undoubtedly become a cornerstone of Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri setup moving forward. Comfortable with playing on either wing, the 21-year-old has arguably developed into la Viola’s most important player in the final third, and has even added end product to his game this season.

Deploying him alongside Giovanni Simeone, and Luis Muriel, Fiorentina boss Stefano Pioli has been able to get the most out of his talented winger. Currently, Chiesa has scored five goals and registered three assists in league play, all-while propelling Fiorentina into a race for the Europa League and deep into the Coppa Italia – a competition in which, alone, he’s got six goals.

Outside of his ability to find the back of the net, Chiesa has also been effective at feeding his teammates. At the moment, the Italian international is averaging 1.8 key passes per game and has been a constant menace on the counter attack with his impressive turn of pace.

Despite his recent exploits, the press surrounding Chiesa has never been worse. While the 21-year-old is capable of the extravagant on the ball, he’s also developed a reputation for diving, and manipulating the referees. If it were a one-off occurrence, it wouldn’t be an issue. However, just this season alone Chiesa’s antics have infuriated the masses, and he’s been labelled as enemy number one from rival fan-bases.

Most recently, Chiesa undeservedly earned Fiorentina another penalty shot, this time coming in their Coppa Italia clash against Atalanta. It would inevitably prove to be the difference as La Viola earned a 3-3 draw going into the second leg. Earlier this season, the Fiorentina winger Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini had some select words for Chiesa after the game.

“Chiesa? The penalty was a farce. It’s an episode that hurts the player’s reputation more than anything,” said Gasperini to Quotidiano.net. 

With a number of suitors, both abroad and within Italy, heavily after Chiesa including Roma and Tottenham Hotspur among others, the young winger will have to curb this bad habit. Otherwise, it may prevent him from reaching the very top.

There’s no denying Chiesa’s talent and versatility in the final third, however, clubs will think twice before making him their marquee signing if his diving antics persist. As Chiesa is about to enter a crucial stage in his career – a point where many Italian talents in the past have tailed off – it’s time for Chiesa to put the theatrics behind him once and for all and put his footballing development first. If not, calcio fans may be witnessing Domenico Berardi 2.0; a scary prospect indeed.

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Lazio 0-0 AC Milan: Everything to play for in second leg after defensive display

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AC Milan were held to a goalless draw at the Olimpico by Lazio, making things very interesting ahead of the second leg at San Siro, though Rossoneri fans would’ve hoped for an away goal. 

With the likes of Calabria and Suso returning to the starting eleven, many expected Gattuso’s men to be much more of a threat than what they actually were. Throughout the game, Milan struggled to create chances up front, more or less sending the ball towards a very isolated Piatek every attack. As you can imagine, this proved unsuccessful, though the alternatives didn’t do much more for the guests.

Lazio had the right desire to force their way forward, managing to test Donnarumma a few times. However, no major chances were created for Inzaghi’s men either, even though one could argue that they deserved a goal in the first half. In any case, it was a defensive-minded affair, just like the games last season (also in the Coppa Italia semi-final).

Then, both games ended 0-0, taking the two-legged tie to penalties. This time out we could certainly have the same scenario come April, when the second leg will be played. With that said, it’s clear that Milan will have to step up their game plan ahead of next time. The Biancocelesti managed to deal with the Rossoneri quite easily in many aspects of the game, which is something Gattuso shouldn’t be happy with, given the players he has at his disposal.

In addition to the game plan, some of the players that Milan usually rely on didn’t turn up today, at least if we’re talking in an attacking perspective. Bakayoko failed to live up to his usual standards, getting dispossessed several times, which affected the entire midfield trio. Kessie was also forced to leave with an injury in the first half, certainly not making things better.

Milan’s tricky winger, Suso, was a huge disappointment as he barely created anything up front. In fact, the Spaniard never seemed to settle properly, and was rightfully taken off in favour of Castillejo, who immediately showed that he can be of use in the second leg. Then again, most of the attackers were isolated during long periods of the game, as Lazio continued to look for an opener.

Looking at the big picture, 0-0 is certainly not a bad result for Gattuso’s men, especially given how today’s match developed. On the other hand, Lazio only need one away goal to really put the Rossoneri under pressure, meaning that the defence will once again be key. Hopefully, Gattuso will be able to combine these two in a better game plan, also perhaps looking over the starting eleven once more.

However, for now, he’ll have to shift focus back to the league, as Sassuolo will visit the San Siro on Saturday evening. A very important game for AC Milan in the race for a top-four finish.

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Moment of truth arrives as toothless Lazio face season crossroads

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

February has not been a month to remember for Lazio.

After January ended on the high of a penalty shoot-out victory over Inter in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals, fatigue and niggles combine to produce a destructive injury crisis that has left the club facing a crossroads in their campaign.

Simone Inzaghi managed to squeeze his depleted team through wins over relegation strugglers Frosinone and Empoli, but defeats in both legs of their Europa League last 32 meeting with Sevilla, either side of surrendering a lead in the final 15 minutes to lose against Genoa, has left the club in a make-or-break situation when they face AC Milan and Roma this week. Continue reading