Ciro Immobile must rediscover swagger to launch Lazio’s Champions League charge

Lazio vs Roma - Serie A TIM 2018/2019

One step forward, two steps back. That would be a simple way of reviewing the last few days for Lazio, who secured a massive win away to Champions League rivals Inter on Sunday only to fall to an exasperating defeat at lowly SPAL three days later.

The race for the top four spots is far from over and Simone Inzaghi’s side can still count on having a game in hand to gain ground on their rivals, not to mention an easier run-in, but there was no mistaking what a momentous missed opportunity the game in Ferrara was.

You can’t escape the feeling that Lazio may look back on that performance with regret come the end of the season, but perhaps the most concerning lesson to take from the loss was that Ciro Immobile is still showing no sign of turning around his stuttering form. Continue reading

Italy 2-0 Finland: Player Ratings for the Azzurri

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On Saturday at the Stadio Friuli in Udine, Italy managed to secure the 2-0 win over Finland in Group J of Euro 2020 Qualifying thanks to Nicolò Barella and Moise Kean opening up their accounts for the Azzurri.

Here are the player ratings from the victory. Continue reading

What to Watch For: Milan vs Inter

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Milano’s rivaling clubs clash on Sunday evening for the marquee matchup of Serie A Round 28 as Milan square off with Inter at the San Siro.

Last October, Nerazzurri captain Mauro Icardi headed home a very late winner to deal the Rossoneri a 1-0 defeat, but Gennaro Gattuso’s in-form group will look to exact revenge and expand on their one-point lead in third place over their struggling rivals.

Here is what you should be watching for in the latest installment of the Derby della Madonnina: Continue reading

What to Watch For: Chievo vs Milan

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On Saturday, Gennaro Gattuso’s flaming hot Milan side pay last place Chievo a visit at the Bentegodi with the goal of keeping the win streak alive and maintaining momentum heading into next weekend’s Derby della Madonnina.

The Rossoneri enter the tie having won four in a row during an overall nine-match unbeaten run, while the Flying Donkeys just look to play spoiler down the stretch here sitting in 20th.

Here is what you should be watching for in Chievo vs Milan: Continue reading

Felipe Caicedo emerges as unlikely hero of Lazio’s derby heroics

Lazio vs Roma - Serie A TIM 2018/2019

Less than a year has passed since it seemed that all was lost for Felipe Caicedo at Lazio.

The Ecuadorian, brought in ahead of last season to provide an alternative to Ciro Immobile in Lazio’s attack, had shown few glimpses of possessing the quality needed to take the club back into the Champions League during regular cameos from the bench and occasional starts in his debut season.

However, he was handed a glorious chance to prove his critics wrong when the prolific Immobile picked up an injury with just a handful of games remaining of the 2017/18 campaign and a top four spot all-but secured.

Caicedo started, and scored, against Atalanta with three games to go but Simone Inzaghi’s side could only muster a draw.

A chance to make amends presented itself immediately. Lazio travelled to relegation-battling Crotone for the penultimate game of the season knowing that a win would assure them of Champions League football.

Caicedo again started and, with the score level at 1-1, he burst through the home side’s defence to go one-on-one with the goalkeeper. A little composure would’ve been enough to give Lazio the lead, but the former Espanyol striker hit a tame finish straight into the keeper’s grateful arms.

Later, he had a free header from a set piece, but nodded it off the crossbar. Lazio went on to draw 2-2, and completed their late-season collapse with defeat to Inter on the final day that saw them painfully drop out of the top four on head-to-head record.

It would be reductive to suggest that Caicedo single-handedly lost Lazio a Champions League spot, but his squandered chances that day in Calabria left the fans in no doubt that he was at best a substandard back-up option, at worst a liability who needed to be sold immediately.

It is incredible, therefore, to fast forward to the striker’s heroics in Saturday’s Rome derby, when he scored the opener in an extraordinary 3-0 win over Roma, a result that equalled the club’s best-ever result in the fixture and sparked a wave of celebration and optimism for laziali that is still going strong.

The derby holds momentous importance in the calendar of both capital clubs. This has been particularly clear over the last few days.

A week ago, Lazio were on the brink of a crisis as defeat in the derby would’ve made Champions League qualification all-but impossible. Instead, on Thursday the club opened its doors to 5000 fans for a midweek training session, celebrating a result that has united supporters, players and staff in their conviction that a top four spot, and even a Coppa Italia triumph, can be achieved in the weeks and months to come.

On the other side of town, Roma have gone from the thick of the top four race with one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals to being three points adrift of fourth and out of Europe, having sacked their coach Eusebio di Francesco and sporting director Monchi as a result.

For Caicedo, his performance in the derby has transformed him from a popular player to one of the most celebrated members of the squad. The 30-year-old’s composed finish, where he rounded Robin Olsen and stroked the ball into the net, was a world away from his flustered display in Crotone last May.

The Ecuadorian’s strike rate has not improved dramatically this season. His goal in the derby was his fourth of the season in Serie A, while he found the net once in the Europa League. However, his determination, humility and attitude have brought the fans onto his side.

He will always give everything he’s got and this attribute has been applauded by the supporters. He will accept a place on the bench or a mid-game substitution without drama, something that can’t be said for the likes of Luis Alberto, Patric or even captain Senad Lulic.

However, something the Ecuadorian has added to his arsenal this season is tactical flexibility. He is not a vice-Immobile. That hasn’t changed. But his physicality and link-up play offer Inzaghi something he otherwise doesn’t possess among his forwards.

Caicedo has played alongside Immobile on several occasions this season, as well as frequently leading the line with Joaquin Correa, as he did last Saturday. His newfound ability to play in a deeper role, on the shoulder of the main striker, has seen him gain more game time this season; he has already accumulated a total of 1,303 minutes on the pitch this season compared to 1,270 altogether last term.

While he will never be a prolific finisher, Caicedo’s form in front of goal kept Lazio’s engine running in a difficult period plagued by injuries and poor form recently. In contrast to his misses losing the club points last season, the striker single-handedly won Lazio six points as he scored winners in 1-0 victories over Frosinone and Empoli last month.

He has now scored three goals in his last four Serie A appearances, the same number he registered all of last season, and suddenly Inzaghi is having to consider for the first time in his tenure whether to start an in-form Caicedo or an out-of-form Immobile.

Derby goals help to make players legends on the blue side of Rome, with Immobile scoring the second to cement that status in their eyes and former youth team captain Danilo Cataldi adding a third in what he described as “the greatest moment of my career”.

Caicedo’s fan favourite status then took an even bigger boost when he responded to Roma’s Champions League elimination on Wednesday night with a laughing emoji – a sure-fire way to curry favour with the fans.

How long the golden period will last remains a mystery, but Caicedo has started adding goals to his game at the best possible moment for Lazio, who have the wind in their sails as they look to close the gap to the Milan clubs.

A trip to Fiorentina comes next for the Aquile and if the ‘Panther’ can continue his run against a team lurking just five points behind Inzaghi’s side, the memory of that day in Crotone will become foggier and foggier in the memories of the fans.

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Four Talking Points Ahead of Napoli’s Clash with Juventus

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Stars collide on Sunday in Naples at the Stadio San Paolo as Juventus and Napoli will author another chapter in their heated rivalry.

Back in late September, the Partenopei, led by Carlo Ancelotti, leapt out of the gates early with a Dries Mertens strike 10 minutes into proceedings in Turin. From there on however, ‘the Old Lady’ established dominance once again over their league rivals, as Mario Mandžukić equalized then grabbed the lead before Leonardo Bonucci put the bow on the victory with Juve’s third in the final quarter-hour.

Entering this tie, the Bianconeri hold a firm grasp of first place with a 13 point advantage over Napoli and sit in pole position to make it eight straight Serie A titles. Despite that, Ancelotti men will press on and look to exact revenge from earlier in the season against a Juventus side hoping to catch fire again after a rough patch of form.

Here are four talking points ahead of Napoli vs Juventus: Continue reading

Five talking points for Lazio ahead of the Rome Derby

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Saturday’s Rome Derby promises to be one of the cagiest meetings between Lazio and Roma for some time.

Both teams are under immense pressure to deliver a result in a game that means more to the fans than any other, but there are plenty of sub-plots bubbling beneath the surface that go beyond the cliched tussle for city bragging rights.

Champions League destiny on a knife-edge

If Lazio are going to stand any chance of finishing in the top four this season, they must win this game. Continue reading

Four Takeaways From Napoli’s Draw with Torino

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For the second week in a row, Napoli dominate the opposition and create the bulk of the chances, yet fail to capitalize as they were forced to settle with another 0-0 draw at home versus Torino Sunday evening.

With the Partenopei dropping four points over these previous two matchdays, they are now -13 from league leaders Juventus who basically have the Scudetto in the bag.

Here are four takeaways from the Partenopei’s scoreless stalemate. Continue reading

Napoli’s Alex Meret is back on the goalkeeping radar in Europe

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When teenage sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma overthrew Diego Lopez as AC Milan’s undisputed number one keeper back in 2016, and was tipped as the heir to heralded champion Gianluigi Buffon’s Azzurri throne, many other young shot-stoppers in Italy’s talent factory fell by the wayside.

Despite the long lineage of developing top keepers and track record of producing in both quality and quantity, the Mino Raiola-represented star seemed to be a notch above the rest the country’s domestic talent. But in 2017, it was Italy U-17 goalkeeping coach Fabrizio Ferron’s bold affirmation of another from Udine as being technically superior to the Rossoneri phenomenon ushering another into the conversation for the peninsula’s top goalkeeping talent. Continue reading

Four Takeaways from Fiorentina’s Scoreless Draw with Napoli

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By no means was it a simple task, nor the ideal route to a result Stefano Pioli drew up, but Fiorentina managed to snag a hard-earned point at the Franchi from Saturday’s encounter with Napoli.

The Partenopei were perhaps the better side on the evening, winning the possession battle (60% to 40%) and showing a bit more going forward that led many to believe they’d leave Florence victorious. But the lack of an end product and clinical touch to finish off counter attacks were ultimately the difference between a road victory and having to settle for the point.

Here are four takeaways from Fiorentina vs Napoli. Continue reading