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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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 20

Lazio-Sampdoria: despite a fairly muted performance, the Biancocelesti came out on top versus Napoli last week, for the second week in a row propelled by a late Ciro Immobile goal. The capocannoniere keeps producing and has already reached the 20-goal threshold. He has scored their last three goals. Joaquin Correa will be limited, so Felipe Caicedo might get another chance to start and he has posted three goals and two assists in limited action in the last five appearances. Luis Alberto will be looking to pad his assist numbers (12), while Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has reverted back to his less efficient self after a hot stretch. Senad Lulic will be suspended, so Jony is set to play on the left wing and he is a willing crosser. The Eagles have been airtight at home. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 19

Cagliari-Milan: the Rossoblù played their worst game of the season against Juventus and will be eager to bounce back here and snap out of a three-game losing streak. Their last two goals were scored by Joao Pedro and Giovanni Simeone and obviously the Brazilian forward, who has tallied 11 in the season, remains their most appealing player, while the ex-Fiorentina man is more inconsistent, but has his moments in the sun. Radja Nainggolan has not been done a lot in the past four games and that has caused a decline in their offensive efficiency. They lack reliable fantasy option behind those because Nahitan Nandez and Marko Rog are not involved in the offense on a regular basis and their yield there is spotty. Their fullbacks, Luca Pellegrini in particular, have picked up few assists. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 18

Brescia-Lazio: it did not take much, but the Rondinelle are playing way better after the return of Eugenio Corini and have rediscovered a pair of weapons that had not produced in the first handful of games, such as Ernesto Torregrossa and Nikolas Spalek. Torregrossa is a more natural fit next to Mario Balotelli and, while not overly prolific, he can hit the net from time to time. The Slovenian no.10 instead had struggled to find his footing in the top league, but he is getting there. His emergence, on top of injuries to other midfielders, pushes Romulo to a less offensive position, where he is not as appealing fantasy-wise. Dimitri Bisoli is also faromg  better lately, while Balotelli has corrected his attitude and found the target twice in the past month and is obviously their featured guy up front. Stefano Sabelli is always very frisky for a right-back. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 16

Wojciech Szczesny: the Juventus back-line has not been stout in the last two matches, allowing multiple goals for the first time this season, but they might be able to rectify things in the Udinese clash, since the opponents are tied for the least goals scored in the season. The goalie instead has been superb so far.

Aleksandar Kolarov: he has not scored or assisted in five straight rounds, which is odd for him, and he could be due to bounce back in a plum match-up against SPAL. Since Gianluca Mancini is suspended and Chris Smalling is banged up, he is slated to be Roma’s most appealing defender versus a team that has found the target just once in away matches. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 16

Napoli-Parma: there is great curiosity to see what immediate changes Gennaro Gattuso will bring to the table. In his introductory presser, he hinted that he is going to use 4-3-3, which would lead to few duels up front. The first order of business will have to be reviving Lorenzo Insigne, who has not fared well in a long time, while Dries Mertens is in a domestic slump but has done some damage in Europe. Arkadiusz Milik came back midweek and he looked like a million bucks and he was en fuego before getting injured. He should be front and center in the new project. The new tactic would see José Callejon and Hirving Lozano alternate and the Mexican winger has abated after a decent stretch. It would give Piotr Zielinski and Fabian Ruiz more freedom and the Polish midfielder finally broke through last week. Giovanni Di Lorenzo is trending back up after a period of lull.

Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 15

Inter-Roma: the Nerazzurri keep riding their elite striking duo and Lautaro Martinez has been balling out over the last few matches, as he is coming off two braces in a row. Romelu Lukaku did not score last week, but he has already reached the double-digit threshold in the domestic league. Antonio Candreva and Marcelo Brozovic both dished an assist in the last game and they are the two members of the supporting cast who are more likely to pick up bonus points. Matias Vecino has an history of scoring in big games and he has done some damage recently. Their back-line, instead, has not been airtight in the past couple of months, but Stefan De Vrij showed up big on the other end. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 14

Juventus-Sassuolo: Cristiano Ronaldo came back midweek and now it will be interesting to see whether or not he will be load managed in Serie A player after the knee injury. Nevertheless, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala have been excellent in relief and have been able to contribute also when coming off the bench in their standard configuration. Douglas Costa got hurt again, which takes away their most explosive option at no.10, so it will Federico Bernardeschi and Aaron Ramsey running the show there for a while, but they both have not done damage in a while. Ramsey has the most upside in the duo. Khedira is fading and, while Rodrigo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi are serviceable contributors, they are not strong fantasy options. It could be instead the right kind of match-up for Miralem Pjanic to have a meaningful offensive role, while Juan Cuadrado has been a pretty good fullback for a while now. Continue reading

Serie A Team of the Round – Inter

Roma and Inter were the two most dominating sides in this round and, while the Giallorossi could have easily scored four of five goals, the Nerazzurri gets the coveted weekly trophy because they trampled a better team on the road.

The Nerazzurri came in riding a three-game winning streak where they had topped Brescia, Bologna and Verona and were looking for further success in away fixtures, where they have always prevailed. Antonio Conte could not count again on Stefano Sensi, Roberto Gagliardini and Kwadwo Asamoah and fielded Matias Vecino in the midfield, Danilo D’Ambrosio over Antonio Candreva on the right wing and Diego Godin in the back, instead of giving him the usual pre-Champions League day off. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 13

Atalanta-Juventus: after producing at an historic pace through the first ten weeks, the Goddess failed to score in their last two matches against Sampdoria and Cagliari. Josip Ilicic and Ruslan Malinovskyi are suspended, but the Slovenian attacker has appealed, but they will get a boost from the return of Duvan Zapata, who is expected to feature at least in limited capacity. He notched six goals in seven appearances before getting hurt. Luis Muriel is no longer red-hot, as he has not found the target in the last three rounds, but he will be again their main scoring option from the jump. Alejandro Gomez is going through something similar, but he always has loads of potential as an assist-man. Mario Pasalic is likely to move to the hole and he can pretty sneaky there. Robin Gosens has been their best wing-back so far, but also Timothy Castagne has hit the net once. Continue reading