Lazio’s missed moves showed at an inopportune time

de-vrij

On Wednesday, Lazio were playing a brilliant game against the Scudetto candidate Napoli: they were more than holding their own against Serie A’s most prolific attack and they had found the first goal thanks to Stefan De Vrij. Biancocelesti are no strangers to strong performances against the top teams, as they showed in the Supercoppa against Juventus.

However, at half time, the Dutch centre-back left the game because of a hamstring problem that already affected him in the previous fixture. They had already lost Bastos after 25 minutes because of a muscular issue. With only one pure centre-back available, Stefan Radu, Simone Inzaghi deployed Lucas Leiva and Dusan Basta in the three-man defence, but Napoli took immediately advantage and feasted on the weakened line, scoring three goals in five minutes. To make things worse, Basta was later forced out of the game with an injury as well and a penalty by Jorginho rounded up the score to the final 1-4.

Losing three defenders in the same night is obviously an extremely unlucky situation and Wallace was already on the shelf with a soft tissue ailment. However, it showed a fundamental issue of their roster: in the summer, they sold Wesley Hoedt to Southampton for €17M, but never replaced him, hoping that four pure centre-backs would be enough to cope with the busy schedules. They simply kept the Brazilian youngster Luiz Felipe on the roster as an emergency option, but he barely played last season at Salernitana in Serie B in his first year in Italy. They long courted Milan’s Gabriel Paletta and other defenders, but they were unable to find a deal they were satisfied with. The president Claudio Lotito is well-known for his stinginess and for being a tough negotiator, but they could end up paying the price for the lack of signings.

De Vrij avoided major injuries and will likely miss only a couple of games, while Wallace, Bastos and Basta will be out for a month or even more. The Serbian right back will be replaced by newcomer Adam Marusic and Patric, who can adequately cover the whole flank, but neither has Basta’s ability and experience as right centre-back. Lucas Leiva was horrendous in De Vrij’s spot, but right now he is their only option there: the coach will have to scramble to come up with an adequate XI. They will face Hellas Verona and Sassuolo before the break.

The readymade solution would be to re-integrate Mauricio, who was not in the initial 25-man squad for Serie A and has been training along the other excluded players like Federico Marchetti and Brayan Perea, but can be inserted replacing somebody else, likely the youngster Luca Crecco. They had every intention of selling the Brazilian defender this summer after a loan spell at Spartak Moscow, but they could not find a buyer. His stint at Lazio has been disappointing, riddled with blunders and injuries. The alternatives in the free agent market, such as Reto Ziegler, Sebastien Bassong, Joleon Lescott, Modibo Diakitè and Chico are not particularly appealing and especially they would all require some time to be up to speed conditioning-wise. Inzaghi might be soon forced to ditch the three-man defence that have given them great success: they do not have the horses to pull off a convincing 4-3-3 yet, but Luis Nani is now healthy and Felipe Anderson has resumed practicing with the rest of the group.

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