As Marco Guida blew the final whistle of the first half in the Lazio-Juventus game on Sunday, hope and enthusiasm were written on the faces of the 60,000 tifosi at the Stadio Olimpico. Simone Inzaghi’s men had turned in a vintage performance and had completely outplayed the champions. Yet, somehow the score was still 0-0.
That was the first time Juventus had failed to register a single shot – not on target, a shot in general – during the first half of a Serie A game since 2004. The Bianconeri repeated that 'feat' just a few days later in their horror 3-0 Coppa Italia defeat against Atalanta, but the fact that Lazio were not leading after such a dominant display meant that fear slowly crep tinto the stands of the Olimpico.
Lazio eventually took the lead, but by the end of the game the worst nightmare of every Biancocelesti fan had already turned into a reality, as Juventus bounced back and somehow won the game 2-1. The defeat left the home crowd angry, disappointed, confused, but hardly surprised.
In fact it’s been more than a year since Lazio won against any of Juventus, Napoli, Inter, Roma or Milan in Serie A. The last time that Inzaghi’s men emerged victorious after a clash with one of the top teams was October 2017, when the Aquile defeated the champions 2-1 in Turin. It could be argued that Lazio’s terrible record against big teams was the reason they fell short of Champions League qualification last term, as everyone remembers Inter’s dramatic 3-2 victory at the last day of the season.
As if that was not bad enough, Lazio’s results against their direct rivals is even worse this term, as out of 11 games played against any of the teams in the top half of the table, the Biancocelesti have won just one. That was a 1-0 victory against Fiorentina, but putting that game aside, Inzaghi’s men have earned just two points out of possible 30 against any team from the top 10. Simply horrific.
Surely Inzaghi has enough quality at his disposal to be winning at least some of these games, so what makes Lazio so ineffective?
The explanation seems to be a mix of multiple factors. The lack of an equally dangerous partner for Ciro Immobile has been obvious, especially considering the shortcomings of the Lazio striker on the biggest of stages. The need of at least one quality centre-back has also been obvious, as Wallace, Bastos, Stefan Radu or Luis Felipe seem incapable of performing on a consistent basis.
Last, but not least, Inzaghi’s preferred 3-5-2 setup demands wing backs of supreme quality and unfortunately for him, none of the options at his disposal fall into that category.
However, let’s be realistic here. Lazio already possess a good enough roster to cause trouble for every opponent, but the Biancocelesti have rarely done so. Would one quality striker, a wing back or a central defender change that? Unlikely. How about all of them all together? Maybe, but what’s more important for Lazio than the personnel, is the attitude in the big games.
Earlier in the campaign Lazio faced an injury-hit Roma, who have been absurdly inconsistent since the start of the season. However, Inzaghi’s men started the game slowly and failed to pick up the tempo until the end, which resulted in a deserved 3-1 defeat. A few weeks later, the scenario almost repeated itself, as the Aquile almost lost to Milan atthethe Stadio Olimpico, even though the visitors were without half of their starters. However, the hosts needed a last-gasp Joaquin Correa equaliser to tie the game and earn only a 1-1 draw.
In both of those games Lazio had consistency, momentum and quality on their side, but failed to win due to the lack of aggression and intensity, as well as the inability to raise the tempo when they need to. Very often the Biancocelesti start the game in a lethargic manner, leaving the impression that they are afraid to take the game to their opponents. It almost seems that the players are scared to step on the pitch even before the start of the game, which is unacceptable for a club of Lazio’s tradition and ambition.
Actually, despite failing to take the lead, the first half against Juventus should be the way Lazio approach big games from this point on. It was one of the few cases in which Inzaghi’s boys were aggressive from the kick off and actually believed they could win. The hosts pressed high, looked hungrier, more focused than their opponent and deserved at least a point for their wonderful display.
Eventually, Lazio had nothing to show for their efforts, but this should be the obvious way forward for the club. Atalanta’s 3-0 thrashing of Juventus on Wednesday shows what composure, aggression and self-belief could lead to, even against the strongest of opponents.
In conclusion, it can be said that Inzaghi needs to show more bravery in big games. Lazio have the tools to play a high-pressing aggressive football, which could bring out the best of the talented players at the Coach’s disposal. Being afraid that you might lose at the start of the game doesn’t lead to anything good and there is no reason for the 42-year-old tactician to persist with this timid approach.
Inzaghi showed bravery against Juventus and while it might not have paid off in terms of points, it certainly did performance-wise. Lazio played arguably their best football since the start of the campaign and after all, is Inzaghi really risking anything by being aggressive against the top teams? Just two points out of possible 30 is not a record you could be proud of, regardless of the opponent.
Bravery is what Lazio need and that is what the team should aim for until the end of the season.