Hopes of a Derby della Capitale Final at the Energa Gdansk Stadium in Europe were dashed yesterday as Lazio did not hold up their end of the bargain, crashing out of the competition. While the Biancocelesti failed to get the result they needed for progression, the Giallorossi made it – albeit, only just.
Lazio especially looked like a team completely dis-interested in the Europa League, with coach Simone Inzaghi heavily rotating his squad. In all six matches, inclusive of the last one against Stade Rennais, which was a must-win, he never used his best XI. It was a far cry from the side who have performed so superbly in Serie A, where they are very much in the top-four race, especially so after a dominant victory over perennial champions Juventus last Saturday.
While Lazio's best team can give anyone in Italy and Europe a run for their money, the same can’t be said about their squad players. The front four of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Luis Alberto, Joaquin Correa and Ciro Immobile move in unison with each other like a well-oiled machine, almost playing from memory. When even just one of them doesn’t feature - or in the case against Rennes, more than one - the machine totally malfunctions.
It was no more evident than in the double-header with Celtic, who ran circles around Lazio in both matches. Indeed, there was really only one team who showed their intent on showing the best of themselves, leaving the Aquile to pick up the pieces as they suffered 2-1 defeats home and away.
However, given his side’s Coppa Italia success last season and overall consistency in Serie A since he took over, Inzaghi has money in the bank. His Roma rival, on the other hand has no such luxury to fall back on.
Paulo Fonseca only took charge of the Lupi this past summer and all his moves on and off the field have been particularly scrutinised. While he too has made the odd change here and there in Europe, the Portuguese has generally tried to employ as close to his starting team as possible, even if injuries have forced his hand on occasions.
Fonseca arrived in the Italian capital with a sterling reputation, having led Shakhtar Donetsk to three domestic doubles in succession, doing so with a proactive style of play. That style requires his team press the opposition all over the pitch when not in possession, so fitness is paramount. That may also explain the excessive number of muscular injuries.
In an ironic twist, Roma displayed the coach’s influence best in the two games against Istanbul Basaksehir, who topped the group. They triumphed by an overall score of 7-0 versus the Turkish side, with striker Edin Dzeko plus starlets Nicolo Zaniolo and Justin Kluivert playing key roles. They were also the only team in their group with a positive goal difference, having scored 12 and conceded six (even if it should be five).
Roma are now in the Round of 32 and the chase to end an almost six-decade drought without success on the continent is still alive, although their attitude which the coach himself eluded to after the 2-2 draw with Wolfsberger needs a serious jolt.
Italian teams have come under immense criticism for years for not taking the UEFA Cup/Europa League seriously. Many see it as a nuisance as they aim for what they consider to be the ultimate prize of Champions League qualification. Contrast that with the years between 1989-1999, when Calcio clubs made the competition their own plaything, triumphing eight times during that 11-year period.
The January transfer window is fast approaching and while neither side have been the subject of much market speculation, both squads may need additions to achieve their season's objectives. For Lazio, they could do with a couple of attackers and some defensive cover at the back. As for their city rivals, in the red-and-yellow half of the Eternal City, a reliable alternative to Dzeko.
Both squads still have major objectives to achieve this term, with Roma chasing European glory and Lazio trying to gate-crash the Derby d’Italia for the Scudetto. Should both ultimately reach the promised land, their Europa League group struggles will seem like a distant memory.