Lazio were trying to regroup from the shock of seeing unlikely figure Giorgio Chiellini finish a clinical counter-attack as play developed on the right hand side. This was just 120 seconds later, with the Bianconeri showing no sign of resting on their advantage. A burst through the centre and exchange of passes with Mirko Vucinic, then a deftly placed shot with the outside of the foot. A fantastic goal. But it wasn’t a piece of magic conjured by Carlos Tevez. Nor Arturo Vidal. Instead, it was a dazzling run and finish by Stephan Lichtsteiner, the man who put Lazio to the sword in the 4-0 Super Cup demolition on Sunday.
On a night when Juve dominated the Biancocelesti to win a record-equalling sixth Super Cup, the Swiss international shone brightest. Whistles from former supporters in Curva Nord upon his substitution were tinged with acknowledgment. Lichtsteiner replied in kind by offering a bow. A move typical of the cheeky and antagonising Lichtsteiner. A move which makes him the sort of player popular only to his club's fans and one which riles the opposition. He is not an official’s best friend either. But it’s all part of the Lichtsteiner package.
The other side was his influence on the pitch. Nobody was better. Lichtsteiner played a role in all four goals. His deflected cross from Andrea Pirlo’s free-kick found Paul Pogba, while he tore away and centred for Chiellini on that lethal counter. In the midst of the six minute second half blitz Lichtsteiner scored. Finally, his initial shot was saved before Tevez netted.
It’s a display which bodes well for the upcoming campaign. Now in his third season with the Bianconeri, the 29-year-old is a vital cog in Antonio Conte’s XI, even if not spoken of in the same breath as some teammates. Lichtsteiner’s ability to power up and down the right flank not only augurs the ‘Forrest Gump’ nickname, but suits Conte perfectly. Even if it takes some shouting to get it done: “Antonio Conte has always screamed at me! I need a Coach who shouts and always demands more, as it brings the best out of me.” This helps especially towards the end of a campaign, where in a role such as his, energy levels can drop.
The Swiss player was a regular throughout his three terms in the capital. When Juve’s 2011 right-back search narrowed to two names – Lichtsteiner and Mattia Cassani, who had excelled at Palermo – they chose the former. While Cassani has stagnated in recent years, Lichtsteiner put paid to Juve’s ongoing full-back concerns. Hindsight says it was the right decision. Lichtsteiner commenced brightly in the 4-3-3 formation, his athleticism allowing for a highly-attacking, but defensively conscientious style.
He was one of those to initially struggle with the nuances of the wing-back introduction. It didn’t appear to suit his game as much. But Lichtsteiner did not throw in the towel. Just as he doesn’t when chasing a ball or opponent. His personality is to excel. It’s to show desire and have a high work ethic. He embodies his Coach in that respect. It’s why Lichtsteiner is now at home on Juve’s right flank and why he remains first choice in what is a physically and tactically demanding position. Lichtsteiner netted four times in Serie A last season thanks to his running and ability to be an extra body in attack. He gives an outlet for teammates inboard.
Given Simone Pepe is just returning from a lengthy spell on the sidelines and with rumours continually swirling above Mauricio Isla’s head, Lichtsteiner is a steady and capable wing-back choice. He may be a hothead, but with Conte driving him forward, Lichtsteiner will continue to be a force for the Bianconeri.
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