There was a brief period last Saturday when Lazio had the possibility of joining Juventus at the top of the table. Lowly Palermo may have denied them that opportunity, but the 2-2 draw at the Stadio Barbera – where they had a perfectly good goal disallowed – underlined the kind of spirit within their set-up.
Juve may now be five points clear, but Coach Vladimir Petkovic has instilled a character into a side that currently sit in joint second place alongside Napoli. Unbeaten since early November, their form, according to Petkovic, is potentially that of title contenders.
“Juventus are the team to beat, the strongest team in the League,” the Stadio Olimpico tactician admitted. “But in the last 12 games, we’ve got the most points, we are doing well and we want to do even better.”
While their first XI, as a unit, can challenge Juventus, their squad – unlike the Bianconeri’s – has no real depth. Against Palermo the absence of Miroslav Klose and Abdoulay Konko showed their lack of alternatives in several departments, while an injury-plagued Juve beat Udinese 4-0 with half their regulars missing.
Further proof arrived on Tuesday in the Cup meeting between the two sides. Juve fielded a strong XI, but quite different from their normal formation, while Lazio stuck to more or less the same team that plays in Serie A. Juve had most of the play, created numerous chances, but this Biancocelesti outfit don’t know when they are beaten and snatched a late draw.
While the Italian Cup would be a welcome addition to the club’s trophy cabinet, President Claudio Lotito would prefer Serie A ‘success’. After narrowly missing out on a Champions League place over the last two seasons, they will be hoping it will be third time lucky come May. That would make Lazio, even for all their careful spending, an attractive proposition to more top players, footballers who can help them take the next step up.
Petkovic has got the Biancocelesti playing in a well-defined shape, starting at the back with Federico Marchetti who has kept eight clean sheets in 16 games. Factor in Konko, Giuseppe Biava and the return of Stefan Radu in defence and that department looks pretty decent.
Up front, the deadly Klose is at the sharp end scoring goals, with the brilliant Hernanes behind him. The Brazilian one-man tornado’s intelligence and movement this season has allowed Petkovic to change systems, according to who they are playing and still come out smiling – witness the Atalanta game. The meticulous planner invariably has a Plan B and in that case a Plan C. He started with his normal 4-4-1-1, tried a 3-4-3 and when that failed sent on the in-form Sergio Floccari, changed the system to a 4-4-2, and won 2-0.
The Coach, however, refuses to get carried away. And when his analytical qualities are blended with this ability to stay grounded through highs or lows, then it is no wonder he is nicknamed The Doctor. “We have done well and there is a good rapport between us and I think you can tell,” he reveals.
What has also helped is the continuity of the squad and, with just two major arrivals this summer, the core has played together for several seasons now and the results of this maturity and closeness are obvious.
This dynamic started at the top with Lotito who brought in the unknown Petkovic and backed him all the way. Now what the President needs to do is make sure Petkovic is tied down to a longer contract, as his current one ends in the summer of 2014. The fact that a few envious eyes are already watching the tactician says so much about him and his Lazio side.