Lazio supporters have never shied away from making their feelings clear regarding the performance and behaviour of players and staff, frequently intervening in turbulent times. The latest example was the heckling of sporting director Igli Tare that took place following the club’s embarrassing surrender of transfer target Davide Astori to Roma. However, since those fiery exchanges, the club’s pre-season has taken a positive turn, with the capture of the sought-after Netherlands international Stefan de Vrij turning heads all around the globe.
The 22-year-old’s agent said on his arrival that De Vrij ‘chose Italy because they defend well’ and that at Lazio ‘he wants to become the best defender in the world’. Although he is still some way off achieving that target, the arrival of such a talented and ambitious youngster has stirred up an atmosphere of optimism in the camp, as Pioli’s Lazio begins to take shape.
The Coach wants to build a team that provides attacking, entertaining football and he will likely use 4-3-3 as his default shape. With the addition of a quality partner for De Vrij in central defence, Lazio’s side on paper will begin to look well balanced.
Young players such as the Dutchman, Keita Balde and Filip Djordjevic will benefit hugely from playing alongside the experienced Stefan Radu, Antonio Candreva and Miroslav Klose. The signings of Dusan Basta and Marco Parolo were quite unusual for Claudio Lotito in that they bring with them an already strong Serie A track record and it should mean that they take less time to make an impact in the side.
However, perhaps the most exciting prospect for the coming season is the potential rise of another star from the club’s excellent Primavera side. Eddy Onazi and Keita Balde have both exploded on to the scene in the last two seasons and players are queuing up to follow their example.
Whether any of Joseph Minala, Mamadou Tounkara or Danilo Cataldi have what it takes remains to be seen, but another player who could light up the league this term is Felipe Anderson. The Brazilian joined with much fanfare for a hefty €8m last summer but struggled through a difficult first season. However, in pre-season he has begun to demonstrate his real value and could excel under the stewardship of Pioli and now with a season’s experience under his belt.
Pioli’s methods have been widely praised by the players as they gear up to begin a campaign free from the distraction of Europa League action. A real togetherness emanates from a squad that will also benefit hugely from having two World Cup finalists in their ranks in Klose and Lucas Biglia.
However, their greatest challenge may yet come, with uncertainty surrounding how many fans will turn up to the Stadio Olimpico when the campaign kicks off. The Ultras abandoned the stadium in protest against Lotito’s ownership for the latter part of the last campaign and could well continue their stance into a new season. No matter how much positivity Pioli can instil into his group, playing home games in a deserted arena would provide them with an altogether different challenge.