Two players will be key to Lazio’s success this season and, as David Swan points out, they are not Hernanes and Miroslav Klose.
Given that they finished a place higher in 2011-12 than they did in 2010-11, it may seem odd to talk about injuries to a couple of players hindering Lazio’s season. But Giuseppe Biava and Andre Dias are as important to Lazio's success or failure as any other player in the squad.
That then Coach Edy Reja was only able to use both together for a third of last year's games hurt the team in a way they probably did not think was possible, and with the final gap to Udinese only two points, it is not outrageous to claim that their absence cost Lazio a Champions League spot.
The two central defenders were a little under appreciated in 2010-11, their efforts and contribution to Lazio's defensive solidity lost in all the praise and attention on Hernanes. Of the 30 games they started together that campaign, both were on the pitch for the full 90 minutes in 22 of them. The team lost just five, or 22 per cent, of those matches. Compare that to the record in the 16 games without the two finishing the match in tandem, or where one or both were missing entirely – seven losses, or 43 per cent of matches. In other words, Lazio lost almost twice the number of games when the two were not able to complete 90 minutes.
The pattern of more losses without Biava and Andre Dias is the same when you look at 2011-12, albeit not as stark. This may be due to the smaller sample size – they only started 13 games together, of which eight included a full 90 minutes from both. Only two losses from the eight games equates to a quarter of the matches where Reja’s team were left without points.
The loss percentage increases by five to 30 per cent when we analyse the 30 games where Lazio missed one or the other, or where they could not complete the full match together. A less dramatic downturn in fortunes with their absence compared to the previous season, possibly because the squad managed to adjust and the replacements stepped up their game with the regular football they received.
The League was also weaker in general – the 62 points that allowed Lazio to finish fourth in 2011-12 would only have been enough for seventh in 2010-11. Had they been able to get another five games from Biava and Andre Dias, we would probably be talking about a Champions League finish.
Regardless of the strength of the championship, Coach Vladimir Petkovic is going to need the two to steer clear of injury and suspension this year if they are going to mount a challenge for Champions League places. Inter are unlikely to experience a repeat of last year, Napoli no longer have the European Cup to eat up mental energy and focus, and Roma are probably a more dangerous outfit, if a little inconsistent. Greater competition means more points are needed.
Nevertheless, their record so far, having completed 90 minutes together in the each of the first three games of the season and won all of them, suggests they can compete, albeit having not played one of the stronger sides. Hernanes and Miroslav Klose will continue to get the plaudits with the goals they are scoring, but it is Biava and Andre Dias that will decide the team’s final position.