There is a school of thought which dictates that we should want the teams best equipped for European action, those most capable of defending the sacred co-efficient, to take Italy's Champions League qualification berths. In that case we should probably all be willing on Napoli – the counter-attacking Campanians who charmed the continent this season with their passion and fearlessness – in the race for third place.
However, there is something alluring, something seductively bonkers, about the prospect of Lazio, current occupants of third, grasping that golden ticket at the end of a season filled with more ridiculous plot twists than an episode of Scooby Doo.
Indeed if a mask was ripped off Coach Edy Reja's face and Francesco Totti was revealed underneath, grumbling about how he would have got away with it if it wasn't for those pesky kids, it would explain a lot about the Biancocelesti's campaign.
Reja has attempted to abdicate his post not once but twice, but Serie A's oldest tactician is no drama queen. The 66-year-old had legitimate grievances on both occasions – the unrealistic expectations of fans that wouldn't let him stroll down the street with his wife without insulting him in September, and the incompetence of sporting director Igli Tare in February.
Tare's unsuccessful pursuit of Keisuke Honda and Nilmar – players that always looked like unrealistic targets for a traditionally thrifty club like Lazio – during the January window and purchase of Antonio Candreva – a last minute signing with 'panic buy' stamped on his forehead and a boyhood Roma fan into the bargain – left the Aquile woefully under equipped for their Champions League charge. Or so it seemed.
Ahead of their first visit to the Juventus Stadium tomorrow evening, Lazio are exactly where they want to be, their grip on a top three place tightened by a 3-1 victory over Napoli last Saturday which widened the gap between the clubs to six points. It was a match which captured the personality of Reja's side in all their neurotic glory.
Miroslav Klose and Hernanes were unavailable and withdrawn at half-time respectively, Andre Dias, Senad Lulic and a number of other first teamers were injured. The heroes were distinctly unlikely ones, Candreva of all people opened the scoring having been relentlessly booed throughout his short spell at the Olimpico. Tommaso Rocchi, who's been with the club since he had hair, which was a very long time ago indeed, ran himself silly up front and proved a very able deputy for Klose. “We were not experiencing a great run of form and the Neapolitans were a strong team to face, but we closed ranks and played a great game,” stated Reja.
Reja's coming and going and Tare's boardroom blundering might have given it a slightly slapstick feel, but Lazio's season has also been touched by genuine tragedy, the death of legendary striker Giorgio Chinaglia and the scooter accident which has left 17-year-old youth team defender Mirko Fersini in a coma – events which have either rendered the team’s Champions League quest meaningless, or invested with new meaning, depending on your perspective.
The capital club had just 42 per cent possession on Saturday but won by two clear goals. It’s a trick they've pulled fairly regularly this season. They haven't drawn since December, winning eight and losing seven of their 2012 League fixtures. The losses are often heavy – 4-0 in Siena, 5-1 at Palermo – the wins often narrow and hard won. Basically Lazio aren't, to use a technical term, very good.
Hernanes and Klose are their only two exceptional talents, otherwise their squad is populated by average players and others who you would be bestowing a great compliment upon if you called them average. Yet there they are, streaking ahead of Udinese, Napoli, Roma and Inter. Reja has lemons, but the concoction he's brewing is a lot sweeter than lemonade.
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