Another week, another Europa League fiasco for the Serie A sides. The two almost identical defeats that Roma and Lazio suffered put the qualification of the two Capital clubs at serious risk with two games left.
It wouldn’t be harsh to say that Simone Inzaghi’s men need a miracle at this point, as they are now six points off second-placed Cluj, while Celtic’s triumph at the Olimpico puts Neil Lennon’s men out of reach. Odds in the USA - and everywhere else - are strongly against Lazio now.
While Inzaghi had some injury concerns and а number of his players were struggling with fitness issues, it’s really hard to find an excuse for the way Lazio keep losing games after taking the lead. Even the abysmal decision of the referee not to award a penalty for a clear handball after Ciro Immobile’s shot is not enough to justify the Biancocelesti’s lapses in concentration and inability to close out games.
Lazio have now lost three of their four Europa League games by 2-1 after taking an early lead and the fact that Inzaghi is unable to improve even slightly in that aspect is truly astonishing.
However, what’s even more puzzling is how the 43-year-old tactician keeps repeating the same mistakes over and over again, and yet expects a different result.
Just like in the first game at Celtic Park, Inzaghi opted to start Denis Vavro at the heart of his defence, moving Francesco Acerbi in the more uncomfortable role for him on the left of Lazio’s back three. The presence of Jony at left wingback, who was once again preferred over Senad Lulic, deprived Acerbi of any notable protection and the experienced centre-back struggled throughout both games.
Felipe Caicedo was another player who started on both occasions, but just like in the first game, he was one of the worst players on the pitch last night. The Ecuadorian forward completed only seven (!) passes with an accuracy of 58% for 90 minutes, proving once again that he cannot be considered a worthy partner to Immobile, especially in Europe.
It should be noted that Joaquin Correa’s injury left Lazio without many options upfront, but keeping Luis Alberto on the bench once again was another huge mistake by Inzaghi. What’s more worrying than the Coach’s choices in the starting XI, was the overall lack of concentration and determination in many of the Lazio players.
Celtic’s equaliser was the perfect example for that, as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s poor touch gave the ball away in a dangerous area, while Acerbi inexplicably allowed the ball to go under his foot, which led to James Forrest’s equalizer. However, Lazio’s carelessness reached its peak in the 95th minute when Valon Berisha’s gift virtually deprived his side of any realistic chance of qualification.
In a very similar manner, although away from home, Roma conceded their first Europa League defeat of the season, as the Giallorossi conceded another 95th-minute strike and eventually suffered a 2-1 defeat against Borussia Monchengladbach.
Despite missing almost half their squad, Paulo Fonseca’s men fought bravely and outplayed the Germans in the second half, but inevitable fatigue creeped in and cost them dearly.
However, a number of Roma players deserve to be complimented for their approach and dedication, despite the extreme situation. The Giallorossi’s team spirit and work ethic that earned them a victory against Napoli during the weekend almost did the same at the Borussia Park last night.
Unfortunately for Roma, Fonseca finally paid the price for fielding the same players week in week out, as a number of his men ran out of steam towards the end of the game. Javier Pastore and Nicolò Zaniolo were undoubtedly two of the best performers last night, but Fonseca was forced to take them out, as they just were visibly struggling after the 70th minute.
Gianluca Mancini, who has been a key figure for Roma during the injury crisis, had a really poor game last night and this was a clear indication that the Giallorossi desperately need to recover at least one more midfielder in order to avoid a negative streak of results.
While goalkeeper heroics and controversial refereeing were part of both Roma’s and Lazio’s games, their common problem is the concentration and organization in the dying minutes of their games.
The Chris Smalling penalty that was awarded for Borussia Monchengladbach, after the ball hit the Manchester United loanee’s face at the Olimpico, was an unlucky incident, but just like Marcus Thuram’s winner last night, came in the last minute of the game.
On the other hand, Berisha’s gift means that Lazio have also conceded at the end for a second game in a row, while this has been happening to both Capital clubs time and time again throughout the years.
Is this a fitness issue, one of concentration, or perhaps the attitude Italian sides have of trying to control a game when they ought to go for the jugular? Inter fumbled a 2-0 lead at Borussia Dortmund and wasted the advantage to lose in Barcelona, so the problem must be identified before it spreads and destroys Serie A’s remaining European credentials.