Squad rotation is essential in the Europa League, as Lazio turned the game with Rennes around thanks to options off the bench, whereas injury-hit Roma lacked alternatives against Wolfsberg.
Lazio had a game of two halves against Ligue 1 outfit Stade Rennais. Simone Inzaghi elected to start with a relatively half-strength side and the absences of key creators Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto were felt for most the game, the Biancocelesti failing to create any real scoring opportunities before the duo entered the fray.
Joaquin Correa is another whose absence created a lack of creative spark going forward and it was not until the 55th minute when the deadlock was broken, the away side taking the lead through Jeremy Morel’s header on a free kick, that Lazio seemed to wake up.
Just before the goal, Inzaghi substituted Valon Berisha and Danilo Cataldi for Luis Alberto and SMS, a decision which, in all likelihood, was responsible for the strong final 35 minutes to the match for Lazio.
Just eight minutes after Morel took the lead for Rennes, Milinkovic-Savic equalised, continuing his run of good form and, to the delight of Lazio fans, once again showing similarities to his performances in the 2017-18 season. Milinkovic-Savic assisted Ciro Immobile’s 75th minute winner as well and proved just how vital a cog he is in the Biancocelesti machine.
Lazio probably would have lost this game a few weeks ago. A lapse in concentration would have led to damaged morale and the team would have slumped to a somewhat embarrassing home defeat. However, Inzaghi’s side is showing signs of a more put-together unit. Perhaps the disappointing first half was a cunning plan to preserve energy, considering their tendency to crumble in the final 30 minutes?
Roma, meanwhile, struggled to a 1-1 draw away to Wolfsberg. The Austrians won 4-0 away to Borussia Monchengladbach in their opening game, so were more than capable of causing another upset. Fonseca fielded a relatively strong side, with a few notable differences such as Nikola Kalinic up top instead of Edin Dzeko, as well as Leonardo Spinazzola, Antonio Mirante and Javier Pastore all picking up valuable first team minutes.
Roma started the game well, even if it was only a bizarre stroke of luck that gave them the lead when Spinazzola’s header took a double ricochet to go in. However, Wolfsberger were not prepared to roll over for Fonseca’s side and fought back, eventually levelling things up at the start of the second half.
For the last 40 minutes, Roma were wasteful. The Giallorossi were dominant in possession, with 65% across the whole match, but failed to turn it into a result. The team had 19 shots, compared to Wolfsberger’s nine, and the Serie A outfit made 267 more passes than their opposition.
On paper, it was a dominant performance, but a lack of innate attacking ability up top cost the team dear. Unlike Inzaghi, Fonseca did not choose to insert a star player like Edin Dzeko to try and give his team the edge, leaving the Bosnian on the bench in favour of a full 90 minutes for Nikola Kalinic, who has failed to impress so far for the club. This was arguably a mistake, as Dzeko already showed against Bologna how he can turn a game in stoppages.
What these games really show, however, is that for the first team in a handful of years, the two Roman clubs are closer to the same level. In the past 5-10 years, Roma have been more dominant both domestically and in Europe, but in the past 12 months, the Giallorossi have slipped up and lost momentum, allowing their rivals to catch up with and perhaps even eclipse them.