Igli Tare is often referred to in Italy as the most underrated sporting director on the Peninsula. His eye for emerging talent, out-of-favour stars and cut-price deals has seen the club bring in the likes of Stefan de Vrij, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Ciro Immobile, Luis Alberto and Lucas Leiva for a meagre €34m over the last few summers. To provide some context, that is around €4m shy of the fee Milan handed Porto for Andre Silva’s signature last summer.
While all five of those players have shone in Rome, the best value for money has undoubtedly come from the boots of Immobile.
Lazio handed Sevilla less than €9m for the striker in July 2016 and two years later Ciruzzo has written himself into the club’s history books with 68 goals in 89 appearances.
The 28-year-old leapt to seventh place in the Biancocelesti’s all-time top scorer charts last year and it seems only a matter of time before he leapfrogs Aldo Pucinelli, Lazio’s record Serie A appearance holder, on 78.
Immobile was at it again last weekend, opening the scoring in the 2-1 defeat to Napoli with a sublime turn that confounded three opposition defenders before applying an exquisite finish. It meant that the Azzurri forward has now opened Lazio’s seasonal account in each of the three seasons he has been in the capital.
All would appear rosy then, with Tare continuing to profit from his mercato masterstroke and the arrivals of the likes of former Fiorentina captain Milan Badelj on a free transfer, Sassuolo centre-back Francesco Acerbi for €10m and Joaquin Correa from Sevilla for €16m promising to be the latest Tare magic tricks.
However, Lazio’s – and Tare’s - summer transfer campaign has been overshadowed by one glaring slip-up. One of the first boxes on the sporting director’s to-do list remained unchecked when the deadline passed last week: finding an adequate back-up to Immobile.
The dependence on Immobile for goals has been a major talking point throughout the summer, with doubters of Simone Inzaghi’s side questioning what kind of threat they would pose should there be a serious injury to the striker.
It’s no coincidence that Lazio’s late-season collapse that saw them fall out of the Champions League spots came while their top man was side-lined with a hamstring problem. The two games he missed – against Atalanta and Crotone in Weeks 36 and 37 – resulted in draws where a win would’ve guaranteed a top four place, while he was rushed back for the final day decider against Inter and could only contribute a sub-par performance in poor condition.
The other three league games Immobile skipped, one through suspension and the others through injury, yielded one win, one draw and one defeat against Udinese, Atalanta and Milan respectively.
Immobile scored 29 league goals last season, making him joint-Capocannoniere with Mauro Icardi of Inter, and 41 in all competition. In a record-smashing campaign, the Aquile they scored their most goals ever in a single season (89) as well as picking up the most points (72) and most wins (21) since their Scudetto-winning campaign of 1999-00.
Examining the numbers, that means Immobile contributed 33% of Lazio’s Serie A goals last season. Which statistically made Lazio less dependent on their star striker for goals than Inter were on Icardi, who scored 44% of their Serie A strikes.
The difference is that while Lazio’s top four rivals have reinforced by bringing in the likes of Lautaro Martinez, Matteo Politano and former Aquile man Keita Balde Diao, Inzaghi’s side begin the new campaign where they left off – with Felipe Caicedo as their vice-Immobile.
The Ecuadorian’s struggles last season were frequently lamented by the Lazio support, and while he does possess qualities – physicality, link-up play and selflessness among them – he is a completely different striker to Immobile and certainly not someone who provides the same threat in front of goal.
The 29-year-old former Manchester City man has never been a prolific scorer throughout his career and his three-goal league haul last term did little to convince fans that he can shoulder Immobile’s burden while the striker is unavailable.
That leaves one certainty. Lazio must continue to find goals from other areas of the pitch, with much of the responsibility lying with Milinkovic-Savic, Serie A’s top-scoring midfielder last season with 12 strikes, and Luis Alberto, who plundered 11, needing to step up after disappointing opening day performances.
The loss of Felipe Anderson as a goal threat has been somewhat overstated, with the Brazilian finding the net just four times last season, and Correa could prove to be an extra weapon going forward once up to speed.
Inzaghi should be delighted with the forward threat he has in midfield and this could go some way to making the Immobile-dependence argument redundant.
Nevertheless, Immobile must be wrapped in cotton wool over the next year. His fitness and form could again be the difference between whether Lazio feature in the Champions League or Europa League next season.
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