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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AC Milan 3-0 SPAL: Pioli’s men through to the quarter-finals with ease

AC Milan managed to follow up the win against Cagliari last weekend with yet another one this evening, beating SPAL with ease at the San Siro. Certainly, it was an encouraging performance by Pioli’s men, who now will face Torino ht quarter-finals of Coppa Italia. 

The Rossoneri started the game very well, immediately showing the away side their intentions for the evening. However, at least initially, SPAL managed to get past the Milan players despite the high line they faced. Pioli’s response? He ordered his players to push even further.  Continue reading

AC Milan vs. SPAL: Team news, stats and prediction

AC Milan managed to claim all three points (finally) away at Cagliari this weekend, scoring their first goal in three games. Certainly, the performance was an encouraging sign of what’s to come, should Stefano Pioli’s men be able to build on the display. 

As you would expect, Ibrahimovic was crucial for the Rossoneri, inspiring his new teammates. In addition to the Swede, Pioli also dared to switch things up with a new formation (the 4-4-2) and a few changes. For example, after the horrible outing against Sampdoria, he benched Suso in favour of Castillejo. Continue reading

PREVIEW: Fiorentina-SPAL – Can Iachini get his first win?

The first match of the Beppe Iachini era at Fiorentina did not end well, skipper German Pezzella giving away a senseless free kick on the edge of the box. Bologna equalised directly from the resulting set piece, meaning the Argentina international cost his side two precious points and prevented the new Coach from starting his tenure with a victory.

Continue reading

Transfer Watch: One Player For Each of Italy’s Big Six

With the transfer window set to re-open, Serie A clubs are taking to the mercato with differing objectives. While some will be looking for that one missing piece of the puzzle, others are in need of significant retooling. In any case, the January window tends to be quiet, but may present unique opportunities; opportunities clubs simply can’t turn down. Zlatan to Milan, for example.

Here’s one player for each of Italy’s big six.

Juventus - Arturo Vidal: The Italian champions are off to a relatively good start in the Maurizio Sarri era and are looking primed for a deep European run. Despite this, their midfield options leave a lot to be desired and are in dire need of reinforcement. Sami Khedira will spend most of the season sidelined while his stunt-double Emre Can appears to be on his way out.

New signings Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey haven’t exactly hit the ground running and will need more time to adapt to their new surroundings. As a result, the Chilean midfielder is an ideal target as he is already familiar with the club and will add some much-needed industry in the middle of the park. Juventus, however, will have to stave off significant interest from Inter. After all, it was Giuseppe Marotta who initially brought Vidal to Italy in the first place.

Inter – Dejan Kulusevski: The Atalanta loanee has been in great form this season and has emerged as a significant creative threat in the final third. While Parma will be reluctant to terminate his loan and Atalanta will be looking for an inflated fee, the Swedish international is everything Antonio Conte needs. Industrious off the ball and creative on it.

Currently, the nerazzurri are running with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, but will need to add depth if they want to compete with Juve’s deep squad. If he’s available, Inter should be all over it.

Roma – Andrea Petagna: Roma go into the New Year in a comfortable position, four points ahead of fifth-place Atalanta and into the knockouts of the Europa League. While Paulo Fonseca has done an incredible job with the tools at his disposal, the giallorossi could use some reinforcements in the January mercato, most notably at backup striker.

Nikola Kalinic frankly has not worked as Roma need someone more reliable in Dzeko’s absence. SPAL’s Andrea Petagna has demonstrated he’s worthy of a shot and has an abundance of experience in Serie A. Other options are Premier League newcomers Patrick Cutrone and Moise Kean. Both have struggled to adjust to life in England, but the latter is unlikely to move now with Ancelotti’s hiring. Cutrone, however, may be worth a punt.

Napoli – Sandro Tonali: While the Brescia midfielder is arguably on everyone’s Christmas wish-list, Napoli should do whatever it takes to acquire Tonali. Whether they secure him and loan him back directly to his parent club for the rest of the season, or slightly overpay to acquire him immediately, Tonali is exactly the type of player the partenopei need.

He is equally capable of dictating play as he is breaking it up and is a self-proclaimed Gattuso fan-boy. Many may liken him to Andrea Pirlo, but Tonali himself admits his style of play is closer to that of the Napoli tactician. Who knows if that plays into his decision? Regardless, it’s worth a shot.

Milan – Jeremie Boga: Milan have been crying out for a creative force down the left for years now and have yet to see anyone of note arrive. The Sassuolo midfielder is a constant menace in the final third and is regularly beating his man with ease, averaging 4.1 successful dribbles per game. At just 22, Boga would fit in with Milan’s supposed youth movement and should be available for a decent price.

In addition to playing on the left, he can also slot in as a trequartista should a new manager arrive in the summer and shake up the system. Boga to Milan is a no-brainer.

Lazio – Daniele Rugani: This seems like a long-shot, but Lazio could use another defender, especially if they want to compete with Juve and Inter for the Scudetto. Rugani desperately needs a change of scenery and could benefit from playing under the inspiring Simone Inzaghi. The biancocelesti could use another ball-playing centre-back alongside Francesco Acerbi, something Rugani proved to be at Empoli.

The Juventus man is currently out-of-favour in Turin and could be available on a short-term loan with an option to buy. Under the right conditions, Rugani to Lazio may just make enough sense.

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 14

Atalanta: Luis Muriel and Hans Hateboer subbed off due to knocks on the knee in Champions League, but there is optimism they will be able to play Saturday. Duvan Zapata flew to Spain for further check-ups on his thigh and will remain sidelined. Rafael Toloi is suspended. Simon Kjaer has been ruled out due to fatigue. 

Bologna: Mattia Destro is improving after his knee problem and could be called up, while Mitchell Dijks (toe) and Roberto Soriano (knee) are having troubles absorbing edemas. The midfielder is actually at risk of missing all the December games. Federico Santander is nursing a thigh strain. Continue reading

AC Milan vs. SPAL: Team news, stats and prediction

Third time’s the charm, right? This evening, Stefano Pioli will look to grab his first win with the Rossoneri, having collected just one point from his first two games in charge. However, given how poor the team has performed as of late, it certainly won’t be an easy task. 

The defeat against Roma last weekend highlighted Milan’s main issue: individual mistakes. Both of the Giallorossi’s goals were created by Pioli’s men, who could have conceded more if the home side had been a bit more composed. For the Rossoneri faithful, it was painful to watch, as the players threw away the game.

TEAM NEWS

As a result of the most recent outing, Pioli is expected to make four significant changes to the line-up, hoping to get a reaction from his squad this evening. In defence, he will experiment with a new solution, putting Duarte at the right-back position. Most likely, this means that they will play with a back-three when in possession.

Calabria and Conti have failed to impress on the right flank and you can understand Pioli’s decision. However, it remains to be seen if it will be an improvement, although it’s certain that Hernandez will get even more freedom to move forward down the left-hand side.

Further up the pitch, Bennacer will finally get the nod ahead of Biglia. The latter has been the preferred starter under both Giampaolo and Pioli. Therefore, it will be an important opportunity for the young Algerian to prove his worth this evening, expected to add a more dynamic touch to the midfield.

Just like the initial report suggested this week, Suso will be on the bench for the first time this season. The Spaniard hasn’t been able to replicate his performances from last season, failing to find the back of the net in the first nine games. Instead, Pioli will opt for Castillejo, who isn’t exactly a fan favourite either. However, it might be enough to motivate Suso to try harder.

In addition to the former Liverpool man, Leao will also start tonight’s clash on the bench. The Portuguese striker has been one of the few highlights for Milan thus far. However, since being moved to the centre-forward role, he has struggled to get his finishing right. Therefore, Piatek will play from the first minute this evening, ready to build on his goal against Lecce.

Likely AC Milan XI (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Duarte, Musacchio, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Paqueta, Bennacer, Kessie; Castillejo, Piatek, Calhanoglu.

STATS

At this point, we can’t rely too much on stats. The Rossoneri have been consistently poor at the start of the season and of course, this matters a lot more than what happened last campaign, when they were actually quite good. Down below is a list of the top five facts and stats about the fixture, so make what you will from it.

  • SPAL have won only one of their 36 Serie A encounters against AC Milan (2.8%): their lowest win percentage against a single opponent in the competition (min. 6 games played).
  • AC Milan have lost only one of their last five Serie A games played on a Thursday (W2 D2), whilst they have been managed by five different managers in this run.
  • AC Milan have lost five games in Serie A this season (W3, D1), only twice in their history have they lost six of their opening 10 league games of a season: in 1938/39 and in 1941/42.
  • Franck Kessié has scored three goals in four Serie A appearances against SPAL, including a brace back in May: against no side has he scored more in the competition.
  • Andrea Petagna made his Serie A debut with Milan in August 2013, against Verona – he scored in his last league game against Milan at San Siro (December 2018).


PREDICTION

Normally, Milan would be the favourites in this fixture, and they still probably are to some extent. However, an upset certainly can’t be ruled out, given how the Rossoneri have performed as of late. That said, though, I think that Pioli will be able to claim his first three points by a narrow margin.

AC Milan 1-0 SPAL

Serie A Round 7 Fantacalcio Player Trends: Stock Down

Match-day six came and went as Antonio Conte’s Inter maintained their perfect record dispatching last-place Sampdoria 3-1 with a man down. Similarly, Juventus overcame SPAL with ease, as Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the score-sheet.

Otherwise, Napoli returned to winning ways against Mario Balotelli’s Brescia after stumbling in mid-week to Cagliari. Top four contenders Atalanta, Roma and Lazio all picked up wins while Milan’s poor form continued in their 3-1 defeat against Fiorentina.

With match-day seven upon us, here are FIVE players you should consider dropping from your fantacalcio side. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 Krzysztof Piątek (ATT, Milan, Value 20.9) – The Polish international and this column have been a match made in heaven this season. Since Marco Giampaolo has assumed the reigns at Milanello, Piątek has looked a shade of his former self and has lost his lethal touch in the box. As the former Genoa man’s woes in front of goal continue, don’t be surprised if Giampaolo opts for the in-form Rafa Leao this week.

At 20.9 million euros, it’s time to move away from the Milan striker and bring in a more prolific figure in your fantacalcio sides. One-season wonder?

Domenico Criscito (DEF, Genoa, Value 22.3) – Since Genoa’s win against Fiorentina at the beginning of September, it’s been a bumpy ride for the Grifoni. Genoa are currently winless in their last three, succumbing to Serie B side Virtus Entella in a club friendly. Moreover, they’ve conceded a staggering seven goals in these clashes, four of which coming in their most recent drubbing against Lazio.

While Criscito hasn’t exactly played poor in these games, Genoa’s porous defence means it’s worth shifting away from the former Juventus defender – especially at 22.4 million.

Andrea Petagna (ATT, SPAL, Value 25.3) – The 24-year-old started the season positively scoring two goals and registering one assist in his first three games, but has since slowed down. In addition to his own profligacy in front of goal, SPAL aren’t in the best form either and have struggled to create chances in the final third. 

In fact, Leonardo Semplici’s men have now picked up three defeats on the bounce, including a 3-1 loss to fellow relegation candidates Lecce. In their most recent defeat against Serie A champions Juventus, Petagna looked out of sorts and isolated on his own up top. As a result, it’s worth using your free transfer and temporarily swapping him out of your eleven for the time being. If his fortunes don’t change soon, consider making the switch permanent.

Arkadiusz Milik (ATT, Napoli, Value 4.5) – Continuing with the theme of out-of-form strikers, Napoli’s Milik is another player you just drop from your fantacalcio sides for the time being. Currently, the Polish international cannot buy a goal, as illustrated in the partenopei’s most recent stalemate in their Champions League clash against Genk.

In his three appearances this season, Milik is yet to find the back of the net and has regularly looked out of sorts spearheading Napoli’s attack. With Dries Mertens, Hirving Lozano and Fernando Llorente as options up front, expect Milik’s playing time to be further reduced moving forward. And we haven’t even mentioned Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne yet. For now, even 4.5 million is too much for the Napoli hitman.

Riccardo Orsolini (MID, Bologna, Value 21.9) – The Bologna winger started the season with a lot of promise, putting in man-of-the-match performances against both SPAL and Brescia. His goal and two early assists indicated that Orsolini introduced end-product to his game and was ready to take the next step in his career. However, in Bologna’s last three games, the 22-year-old has struggled for consistency and is yet to register a goal contribution.

In fact, Bologna have been shut out in their last two games, dropping points against Genoa and Udinese – two sides that will arguably be fighting relegation this season. At 21.9 million, you’d be wise to move Orsolini out of your elevens until he returns to form.

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So much for ‘Year Zero’: Like a moody teenager, presumptuous Lazio refuse to learn lessons

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Old habits die hard. But what if they refuse to die at all?

That, sadly, appears to be the reality facing Lazio after a week in which a familiar trait reared its ugly head twice in the space of five days.

In mirror-image matches, Lazio took the lead away to technically inferior sides, SPAL in Serie A and Cluj in the Europa League, before whimpering to a pair of 2-1 defeats.

Technically inferior they may be, but those teams taught Simone Inzaghi’s men a lesson in the importance of desire and character.

But what’s the point in even attending lessons if you’re not going to learn? Continue reading

Lazio sign Manuel Lazzari from SPAL

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Lazio have plucked one of the best players out of the minnows: Manuel Lazzari from SPAL. In his first two seasons in Serie A, the 25-year-old Italian wing back has been a force to be reckoned with on the right flank, serving as his team’s main playmaker, notching nine assists and scoring two times in 69 matches. On top of paying around €10 Alessandro Murgia returned to the Estensi as part of the deal.

He has been in Ferrara since 2012, when the team was called Giacomense and was playing in the fourth league. He was a big part of their rise up to Serie A, amassing 182 appearances in six seasons and posting 23 assists. He has also one cap with Italy. Continue reading