Before Lazio’s Round of 16 clash against Bayern Munich, Simone Inzaghi’s men were among the most in-form sides in Italy. The capital-based club surged up the table, winning seven of its last eight games in Serie A. Beyond a defeat against Inter, Lazio entered the game in near-perfect form and looked good value to upset the Bavarian giants.
Boasting a deadly Ciro Immobile, and the impressive midfield duo of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, the Lazio faithful believed in the possibility of an upset. After all, Bayern was just coming off a defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt and a disappointing draw against Arminia Bielefeld.
When the final whistle blew on Tuesday, their optimism was quickly replaced by disappointment. A collection of individual errors handed Bayern a commanding 4-1 lead, heading into the second leg. Having conceded four away goals, Lazio would need nothing short of a miracle to progress past the reigning champions.
Lazio’s woes continued this weekend in league action, losing to Bologna 2-0. Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men went into the game with just one win in their last five but dictated the proceedings against Lazio from start to finish. Immobile’s missed penalty shot did his side no favors, essentially condemning them to their eighth defeat of the season.
The defeat cast serious doubts over Lazio’s Champions League credentials, as Inzaghi’s men enter a crucial stretch in the season. If the Biancocelesti are to return to Europe’s elite competition next season, they cannot afford to drop games like these. The race for top four is simply too tight.
Morale may be low following a drubbing, but there are no excuses not to overcome Bologna. Lazio currently sits in sixth place, just one point behind arch-rivals Roma in fourth place, setting up a fiery second half to the season. As reports surface that Lazio may be penalized for not following the appropriate COVID-19 protocols against Juventus and Torino, the Biancocelesti might fall further behind in the race.
Inzaghi has no choice to go back to the drawing board and shake things up. When in form, fewer sides in Italy play better football than Lazio. The Italian giants play with a clear identity and move the ball around efficiently. Immobile and Joaquin Correa are always there to finish, while their midfield boasts a near-perfect blend. At the back, Francesco Acerbi is tasked with marshaling the rearguard, leading with great aplomb.
While an early elimination from the Champions League may be on the cards, Inzaghi must turn to the side’s veterans and turn Lazio’s season around. Last year, the Biancocelesti challenged for the Scudetto for much of the season, before hitting a wall and finishing fourth.
Lazio cannot afford a similar drop-off this time around as they have not built a similar cushion atop the table. With Napoli, Roma, Juve, Milan, and Atalanta all in the battle for top four, missed opportunities will come back to haunt Lazio. Their defeat against Bologna is not the be-all, end-all, but cannot turn into a trend.
Lazio failed to deal with adversity last season, but must learn from its lessons and once again qualify for Europe’s elite competition. The financial windfall that comes with qualification would help the side bolster its roster across the board and add some much-needed depth in crucial areas. This summer’s arrivals have not been up to snuff, failing to make an impact when called upon.
As the season draws to a close, defeats like Saturday’s must become an anomaly for Lazio. Inzaghi has been there before, but this time around must deliver different results. The benefits of yet another season in the Champions League are endless, but with the pressure on, will Lazio falter?
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