Five points to take away from a season of triumph and torment at Lazio

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Lazio’s campaign of highs and lows concluded with the latter on Sunday when Simone Inzaghi’s side lost 3-1 at Torino to finish the Serie A campaign in eighth place.

It was the Roman club’s worst league finish in three years and topped off a season of startling inconsistency.

The joy of a 3-0 win over Roma and an impressive 1-0 victory away to Inter was in stark contrast to lifeless performances that resulted in damaging defeats to the likes of Genoa, SPAL and above all the unforgivable 2-1 loss at home to already-relegated Chievo over Easter weekend.

The Coppa Italia triumph gave the campaign a huge lift, raising spirits and securing Europa League qualification for next season. 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

Paratici, Barzagli and Allegri comment after winning awards

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Juventus’ coaching search rages on in Italy and the sporting director Fabio Paratici chimed in after receiving the Gentleman’s award: “We need to be patient, we are making our evaluations, but we have clear ideas in mind. I feel the pressure from the fans, but it is really a pleasure. I am a supporter first and then an executive. Players like Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli and Andrea Pirlo are heroes, they are the champions I was the most attached to. I think this accolade suits my club in every aspect, from the first team to the youth ones. I have had the massive fortune of working in a top club, where there are big possibilities and you get to work with great footballers.” 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

Cristiano Ronaldo’s other Love

It’s quite common for high profile sporting figures around the world to develop a love for
gambling in its many forms. From sports betting to poker, slots to blackjack, there are
sports stars who have taken these games and activities to heart. Many of those who have developed a passion for these games, would have done so after visiting some of the most exclusive casino venues in the world. It is here that a particular game usually appeals to a person and it then becomes a regular pastime.

One such sporting figure, or should we say mega star, who has developed a huge passion for poker is Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, 34, who signed for the Italian side last summer after enjoying a stellar 9-year stint at Real Madrid is a big
lover of poker and has taken part in numerous games and tournaments over the years.

You could say that it comes as no surprise for Ronaldo to have developed an
understanding and love for poker, as he was introduced to gaming many years ago after
joining Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese star’s English wasn’t the best when he made the switch to England, so he was given a DVD bingo game to help him brush up on his skills. This will have undoubtedly stood him in good stead as he moved into the more advanced world of poker.

Ronaldo’s poker passion also saw the Ballon d’Or winner secure a deal with mega brand PokerStars, and this saw the Portuguese attacker play both online and at live events around the world, affording him the opportunity to travel to and play at some of the world’s leading casino venues. Ronaldo, a sporting figure who does a lot for good causes, also once took part in a special charity game of poker alongside the likes of actor Aaron Paul, a game which CR7 managed to go on and win.

The five-time Champions League winner has spoken about poker and what it means to
him multiple times over the years saying, “Although football is my world, poker has always been my game.” He went on to add, “I love to play poker, it’s a fantastic game that I play with friends and family. To challenge the best players in the world is a pleasure for me.”

The last sentence gives us a great indication about Ronaldo’s outlook in general, as he’s always up for challenging the best on the football pitch, and the same applies at the poker table too.

So, with Ronaldo now aged 34 and nearing the twilight of his footballing career, a move into poker on a more regular basis could be on the cards. He’d certainly have no problem being invited to the top casinos and poker events around the world, and as a global brand, he would be sure to strike up some great sponsorship deals along the way too.

Inzaghi ponders whether to stick or twist as Lazio reserves impress

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Ferocious Champions League races have become something of a theme across Europe this season with teams from England, Germany and Spain taking the top four fight to the final few weeks.

Nowhere is the battle as competitive as in Italy, though, where four points separate five teams between fourth and eighth place with four rounds of action remaining.

For Lazio, the jig appeared to be up when they fell to a harrowing 2-1 defeat at home to relegated Chievo over Easter weekend. Continue reading

Maddening yet magical Joaquin Correa starting to shine at Lazio

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After another week of maddening inconsistency for Lazio, it seemed only fitting that Joaquin Correa was the man to offer a ray of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. 

The darkness descended on Easter Saturday with a 2-1 defeat at home to a relegated Chievo team who had previously won just once all season, causing seemingly irreparable damage to the capital club’s Champions League aspirations.

The abhorrent scenes of some Lazio supporters brandishing fascist banners in Milan before a larger number aimed racist abuse at AC Milan midfielders Tiemoue Bakayoko and Franck Kessie at San Siro during Wednesday night’s Coppa Italia semi-final second leg only increased the feelings of anger and frustration among the vast majority of the club’s support. Continue reading

From rejecting Italy to attracting Tottenham, Lazio’s Luiz Felipe is a player on the rise

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A win for Lazio over Udinese in their rearranged Serie A match this week has kept Simone Inzaghi’s side hanging on by their fingernails in the agonisingly tight race for Champions League qualification.

There is much still to play for this season, with a Coppa Italia semi-final second leg against AC Milan approaching next week (the first leg finished 0-0) after a must-win league meeting with relegated Chievo on Saturday.

Lazio’s summer transfer market activity is likely to be dictated largely by how the next month or so plays out; Champions League football would raise expectations and possibilities, no European football at all would have the opposite effect.

That hasn’t stopped speculation from swirling, though, and this week the Daily Mail reported that Tottenham Hotspur have taken an interest in Biancocelesti defender Luiz Felipe.

Vague reports of ‘interest’ from Premier League clubs in Lazio players are nothing new, but it did at least serve to highlight what an eventful season this has been for the young Brazilian who, while yet to emerge as an undisputed first choice or develop into one of Serie A’s best young defenders, has shown plenty of signs that he is capable of doing both.

Born in Colina, near Sao Paulo, on 22 March 1997, Felipe was whisked over to Italy in 2016 after being spotted playing for Brazilian Serie D side Ituano in his home country.

He had barely unpacked his bags before being diverted south to Salernitana, where he spent the 2016/17 season on loan but struggled to break into the team or impress when handed opportunities.

However, Felipe soon benefitted from Inzaghi’s faith in youth as the former Lazio youth team coach brought him into the Aquile first team squad last season, where he made 31 appearances in his first experience of top-flight and Europa League football.

The youngster would’ve been forgiven for looking a bit daunted, or even out of his depth, at being thrust into this elite echelon of football with just seven disappointing games in Serie B on his CV. However, he soon established a reputation as a technically gifted, intelligent defender with great potential.

Felipe appears most comfortable in the centre of Inzaghi’s back three, where he deputised for Stefan De Vrij on occasion last season before doing the same at times for Francesco Acerbi this term – including during Wednesday’s win over Udinese, when Acerbi was shifted out to the left.

The immovable status of De Vrij and subsequently Acerbi meant that Felipe’s chances more regularly came on the right of the three-man defence, the position that has seen the most chopping and changing of all in Inzaghi’s Lazio; Wallace, Bastos, Martin Caceres, Felipe and Patric have all taken turns at being considered first choice in the role.

Felipe himself insisted after the Udinese match that he doesn’t have a preferred position. “I just like playing,” he said. “If it’s in the centre, on the right or left it matters little. There’s no problem, I respect the decision of the coach.”

A quick, agile and smart player, Felipe’s style of defending has had some of the more excitable fans describing him as in the Alessandro Nesta mould. While he still has lightyears to go before being talked of in the same bracket as one of Lazio’s greatest ever defenders, you can understand where the comparison comes from.

Felipe is blessed with instinctive timing and judgement. He is a graceful defender, who has a knack for anticipating the right moment to go off his feet, step forward to intercept a pass or throw himself into a block. He is not a physically dominant bully of a defender by any stretch of the imagination, but looks every inch the modern-day centre-back; a player comfortable with the ball at his feet but who understands the art of defending.

At the start of the season, after his regular involvement last term, hopes were high that Felipe would cement his place in Inzaghi’s team. Injury niggles have interrupted his progress, with the Brazilian twice facing spells on the sidelines, but he has done enough to find himself at the centre of a national team debate.

Luigi Di Biagio called the defender up to the Italy Under-21 squad during the last international break in March, but Felipe soon left the training retreat after reflecting on his situation and deciding he would prefer to represent Brazil. You can’t fault his ambition.

“It was a difficult choice because Italy is also a great national team, but football is about the heart and my desire is to play for the Selecao,” he said.

“I didn’t accept because I want to continue to follow the dream I’ve had since I was a child, to wear the green and gold shirt. I will continue to work to improve every day, to make this desire a reality.”

The Brazilian Olympic team appears to be a more realistic prospect for Felipe at this stage, with the Tokyo Olympics coming up next year, but everything depends on whether the youngster can nail down a regular place in Inzaghi’s team and finally make the right centre-back spot his own.

There will certainly be defensive changes at the club this summer, regardless of their final position in the table. Dusan Basta is leaving at the end of his contract, Jordan Lukaku looks destined to follow, while Wallace is widely reported to be heading out and the likes of Bastos or Patric could realistically depart if a suitable offer arrives.

As for Felipe, he is seen as one of the great young hopes of this Lazio side and is in a good place to achieve his goal of representing his country, repaying the faith shown in him by Inzaghi in the process.

He may not be Nesta, but the Brazilian possesses the tools to make real waves in a Lazio shirt. It’s now up to him to prove that his hopes of pulling on a green and gold shirt aren’t farfetched.

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Allegri’s time is up

When Massimiliano Allegri was hired to replace Antonio Conte, many Juventus fans were opposed to such a move. He was met with discontent and his car was pelted with eggs and even spat at by fans lined up to “welcome him” to Juve.

Fast forward to the end of the 2014/15 season and Allegri has turned doubters into believers making himself a hero in the eyes of many Bianconeri fans… So what changed and when was the turning point? There are several factors to consider:

1) First turning point was the 2017 Champions League Final in Cardiff. Whatever happened at half-time has left a mark on certain players with Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci leaving and so forth. Alves would later claim he was “unhappy” at Juve

2) Why would Alves be unhappy? It does seem he was not enjoying his football. He only improved after returning from injury and after being given some freedom to attack on the right flank. Could it be the same story again with another attack-minded right-back in Cancelo? Cancelo seems unhappy too. The same could be said about left-back Alex Sandro who had a remarkable stretch with Juve before everything changed after Cardiff too. Sandro seems disengaged in most games the last 22 months.

3) Could it be Allegri is just allergic to talented players who have the desire to attack and attack more as opposed to track back and focus on defensive duties? This could explain why Allegri has often preferred Mattia de Sciglio over Cancelo?

4) What about the fate of two attackers: Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala? Mandzukic has played as a left-winger, even at times as a left wing-back, for over a year before returning to central striker following the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. As for Dybala, he’s been used in multiple positions which do not suit his characteristics. Again, imagine Dybala, who is not physically imposing, has been asked to track back!

5) Not only attackers and full-backs are being misused, but also Juve’s most creative midfielder Miralem Pjanic is tasked with tracking back, defending, tackling and other defensive duties instead of saving his energy and turning his focus into creating chances for Juve’s attackers! Who’ll create if Pjanic is too busy tracking back! It sure is not going to be Blaise Matuidi, whose control and first touch leaves a lot to be desired, and it is definitely not Sami Khedira- who’s been injured this season and then had other health problems plus is slower than ever and never was a creative player.

Juve’s other midfielder Emre Can can play as a right-back, centre-back or a defensive midfield but he too is not a creative force. The same applies to Rodrigo Bentancur who is still very young and needs time to mature and find consistency.

6) Initially, Allegri’s football made proper use of rotating players and changing tactics- even in the same match at times. However, this has proven to be a failure the last 22 months with the XI coming out often looking like complete strangers. Top teams build harmony by often using the same XI and of course making the necessary tweaks on a regular basis. Allegri went too far, just have a closer look at certain Serie A match. It proved costly.

7) To make matters worse, Allegri not only rotated players and changed tactics, but he also changed the position of certain players on multiple occasions, and often at the expense of the team’s performances and results. How often have we seen Juan Cuadrado used as a right-back? What about the older, slower Andrea Barzagli also being used as a right-back? What about Alex Sandro used across multiple positions from left-back to left midfielder and even left-winger. And the list goes on.

8) Undefined tactics are also one consequence of Allegri’s constant change. What makes matters worse is coaches- such as the ones of Atletico Madrid (well, for the 2nd half of the game in Madrid) and of Ajax as well as even Young Boys have outsmarted and outfoxed Allegri. Diego Simeone saw how predictable Juve were in the 1st half in Madrid and he simply urged his team on to expose Juve and their tame football.

9) The repetitive mistakes are of grave concern. They could have been more costly yet in Serie A the weak opposition, lack of consistency and other factors have meant Juve a big margin of error to work with. Even last season, Napoli left Turin with a precious 1-0 win yet failed to build on it… Napoli had the momentum yet they bottled it.

10) Allegri’s reputation in big games has taken a hit: against Napoli last season, Juve needed a draw and he seemed intent on settling for a draw, even the 0-0 tie without showing much attacking desire even at home! Eventually he was punished with a 1-0 loss before Napoli gave it all away.

Against Atletico in Madrid, Allegri was pleased with a 0-0 draw as well and aimed to do nothing more than sit back and let Atletico have their way. The outcome was a 0-2 defeat.

He also made mistakes against both Young Boys and Manchester United. Against United in particular, with the score reading 1-0 Juve’s way, he opted for an unnecessary change by bringing on Andrea Barzagli. The outcome was a 1-2 defeat in Turin.

11) Juve’s defensive unit has conceded many times from set-pieces- via both corner kicks and free-kicks. A wise coach would work on those visible weaknesses. Instead Juve conceded against Atleti from a corner-kick followed by a free-kick. Against Ajax, the winning game for the Dutch team came from a corner-kick!

12) Several bad results hinted the future was not going to be all bright: The home defeat versus Man United was the first warning. Yes, Juve put in a good display for 80 minutes, but in football you need to play well and focus for 90 minutes. Allegri’s substitution and the team’s obvious weakness from set-pieces proved costly.

Against Swiss side Young Boys, Juve lost as well. The excuse was the game did not matter, however, in Europe a team must always try to win regardless of how important or unimportant the game is. You send a clear message when you take every game seriously.

Against Atletico in Madrid, Juve’s players and Allegri were outfought, out thought and out played by Atleti’s player and manager Simeone. Allegri was too late to react to Simeone’s changes even though one could sense the game’s momentum had completed shifted towards Atleti’s advantage.

13) Even Juve’s greatest win this season, the 3-0 triumph over Atleti to overturn the result and advance to the quarter-finals was also aided by Atletico’s own mistakes, including those of manager Simeone who surprisingly tried to defend a 2-0 lead from the first minute. When Juve were up 2-0, one felt it was too late to even contemplate an Atleti comeback of sorts. They wilted and duly got what they deserve with a 3-0 resounding defeat. Ironically, Juve’s win would serve as their downfall as Ajax’s players and their coach took a hold of the game’s video and surely noticed Atletico offered no fight. Ajax did not sit back in Turin.

14) Other notable Juventus wins are very few to the extent they can be counted on one hand. The 1-0 away win at Old Trafford was a great performance with Juve utterly dominating the first half against Manchester United. The other decent performance was the 2-0 away win over Valencia despite Cristiano Ronaldo receiving a red card in the first half

15) Allegri last season depended heavily on Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain to save him. This season he is counting heavily on Ronaldo. No one can deny how last season Dybala saved Juve time and again earlier in the season and then Higuain as well as Dybala combined to save Juve against Tottenham over the two-legged tie to advance to the quarter-finals to face Real Madrid. Hence, Allegri has not been playing a team’s game but rather relying on individual talents to tip the balance to Juve’s side.

16)  Allegri used to complain about how Barcelona had Lionel Messi and Real had Ronaldo, yet here he is in Ronaldo’s first season not taking proper advantage of the Portuguese star’s presence. While Ronaldo has taken most of the team’s free-kicks this season, that is exactly where one can first claim Allegri is losing the plot. Why would you have Ronaldo take most, if not all, the free-kicks when you have in Pjanic one of the best free-kick takers in both Italy and Europe? And to add to that, you also have Dybala who is very lethal from the right side of the pitch.

Allegri should have integrated Ronaldo in a better and more appropriate way. In addition, the team does not create enough for Ronaldo. Imagine the best finisher in the history of the Champions League is playing for Juve, yet he has been starved of service for majority of the games in Europe due to Allegri’s approach.

17) Just as Allegri’s hiring was a gamble, if Allegri is fired then Juve will simply be taking another gamble though a very necessary one. If the objective is to win Serie A, then there are several managers who could have achieved that with this squad. If the main objective is to compete in Europe, then Allegri’s approach has proven futile on multiple occasions.

18) Fitness and injury excuses have been used as well yet why are several of the the main contenders not complaining or suffering the same way? The likes of Barcelona, who used Messi often and even against weaker sides in La Liga, are still cruising and have made it to the semi-final. Forget about Manchester City who are battling on three fronts and forget Liverpool who are still battling on two fronts, but what about even Ajax, who are also locked in a tight title race with domestic rivals PSV?

19) Of course Allegri is not to blame for everything but why was he so easily convinced of Bonucci’s return? Allegri was the one to leave Bonucci with the crowd when Juve hosted Porto in the Champions League. At the time, Allegri was praised for being brave enough to bench a key starter in an important game. Is there a complicit agreement between management and Allegri to keep him in charge as long as he did not demand much in the market? Above all the signing of Ronaldo must be every manager’s dream and by clear indication coach Allegri had nothing to do with it.

20) With former France and Juve star Zinedine Zidane returning to Real, that took away one more option for Allegri in terms of available jobs. Italy is in the hands of Roberto Mancini while Chelsea are facing a transfer ban, and Manchester City are firmly under Pep Guardiola’s guidance. Barcelona will not be making a coaching change, in particular with everything appearing to be in order at this point. This leaves Arsenal and Manchester United, yet even United seem to have settled for Ole Gunnar Solskjær. This means Allegri senses his options are limited yet also Juve’s options to replace him are limited as well. He perhaps feels a greater sense of security in this ironic situation.

It is highly unlikely to see Juve come to agreement with Jose Mourinho- a coach who appears in decline and whose methods have been questioned regularly in recent years- while Jurgen Klopp seems to be happy in charge of Liverpool.

21) Again the focus returns on that Atleti game in Turin. The 3-0 win over Atletico masked all the squad’s visible weaknesses. Ajax were clever enough to know the team’s defensive unit is shaky and would be even worse without Giorgio Chiellini. Had Juve faced a better equipped side, the results may have been much worse. In addition, Juve’s midfield lacks those who can string a few passes together and is not imposing. When Juve lost to Real in Cardiff, the 2nd half showed how the likes of Casemiro can make a difference. Midfield battles win you games, and consequently can cost you games.

22) Allegri does not care to entertain the fans, and he has made that clear more than once- even stating those seeking entertainment ought to go watch a “circus!”

However, there has to be some responsibility towards fans, in particular those who travel from across the world or pay hefty fees in order to watch their beloved team in the stadium. One thing is to entertain and another completely different criteria is being courageous in your approach. Allegri has chosen the cowardly path on multiple occasions. He did so in Madrid yet escaped after Ronaldo’s remarkable hat-trick. He did so again in Amsterdam, showing he did not learn from his mistakes, but this time it did not payoff since Juve exited in the quarter-finals.

Even in Turin, the XI he put on the field seemed disengaged and at times afraid though Juve were expected to prevail due to the experience factor among other things. A coach needs to prepare his team mentally as well. If the players are afraid as Allegri admitted, then he has failed those players at some points.

Perhaps, the biggest thing is that Allegri’s voice is no longer heard in the sense some players are tired of his demands- such as tracking back- while others have simply blocked him out completely in the sense they pretend they are following his instructions yet show little desire to do so during competitive matches.

The odds are stacked against Allegri. He did well till Cardiff in 2017, however, it has been a downhill ride ever since. Around 22 months of unconvincing football culminating with a heartless and toothless performance against Ajax in Turin.

His obsession with winning trophies and avoiding defeat have often led him to a fear of losing games. When he thinks a 0-0 would do such as versus Napoli last season or even against Atleti away and most recently Ajax at home, Allegri would do his best to get the 0-0 even if in his pregame press conferences he would claim otherwise. Allegri would promote attacking the opponent only for the expected to happen during games: Juve sitting back with the aim of getting the 0-0 draw.

Juve got what they deserve but above all it is time for Allegri to leave in May 2019.