Tuesday December 17 2019
Lazio: pretenders to contenders?

After Lazio made it eight straight wins on Monday, Karsten Krogh takes a deep dive into whether the penny has finally dropped for Simone Inzaghi’s side...

On Monday night I talked and shouted my way through Cagliari-Lazio, and Tuesday morning my pulse was still running high. Acerbi running around on left wing and putting in crosses in the 93rd minute! Caicedo scoring with his shoulder at the absolute death! What a phenomenal comeback in a game where Lazio actually did not play that well. But there is just something special about them this season.

The Aquile started the season strongly, beating Sampdoria 3-0 away – and it could have been five or six goals for the Biancocelesti. At the time, many critics and pundits did not take too much notice. Samp had sold a number of their best players in the summer and not replaced them. Also, for years Lazio have been one of those teams who can score lots of goals on their day. In other words, nothing to see here.

Samp have – unfortunately – turned out to be exactly what they looked like in that first match. A team in sales turmoil who could eventually go down. And Lazio, who looked like world beaters in that first game, have also largely lived up to that the rest of the season. Obviously, their current eight-match winning streak, their first away triumph over Milan away in Serie A in 30 years and their impressive 3-1 victory over Juventus (only their fourth win vs Juve in 27 matches!) is very impressive.

But it is also worth remembering that Lazio should have beaten Roma in the derby, in which they hit the woodwork four times. Similarly, their match with leaders Inter at San Siro was completely even, Nerazzurri goalkeeper Handanovic man of the match on that occasion. They lost 1-0.

In other words, in Serie A, Lazio have been extremely consistent almost this entire autumn. At the moment, they are probably the strongest team in the League and some pundits are even starting to mention Lazio as title contenders. That may be pushing it a little – Lazio’s squad is nowhere near as strong as those of Inter and Juve (or Napoli, for that matter) - but top four and Champions League next season is certainly within the realms of possibility.

So what has changed for Lazio since their very mediocre season last year, in which they finished eighth and only saved face by winning the Coppa Italia?

To understand this drastic change, we have to go back to Lazio’s 2017-18 season, when they played some of the best football in Serie A but ended up running themselves into the ground thanks to the gruelling schedule of the Europa League and the restrictions of their very limited squad – something that could easily come back to haunt them again this term.

Lazio is a club with an extremely-small budget. Their player budget is only the sixth highest in the League at €72m. Napoli (€103m), Milan (€115m), Roma (€125m), Inter (€139m) and Juventus (€294m!) are miles ahead of Lazio. The Aquile’s best-paid players, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ciro Immobile, make the same as Borini at Milan, Diawara at Roma and Bentancur at Juventus - €2.5m annually. Ramsey at Juventus makes €7m annually, Godin at Inter €5m and Pastore at Roma €5m.

Lazio President Claudio Lotito, who has never been particularly popular among Lazio fans – or anywhere else for that matter - has always been a shrewd and cost-efficient operator since he gained ownership in 2004 after the crazy Cragnotti years. The upside is that the Biancocelesti is one those rare Italian clubs that generates a financial surplus almost every year. The downside is, obviously, that Lotito’s relatively low wages make it harder to attract players of the highest calibre. That also reflects heavily on the strength of the Lazio squad and has done so for years.

During the 17-18 campaign, Lazio were great until the wheels came off the last couple of months. Lazio played 55 official matches that season and made the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia and quarter-finals of the Europa League. In the end, they lost a heartbreaking match at home against Inter, struggling to field 11 players who were not injuried. Lazio played great football that year but ended up with nothing to show for it. They scored a staggering 89 goals – three more than Juventus and the highest number in the League – but they also conceded 46 goals, three more than Genoa in 12th spot.

Ciro Immobile scored 29 goals, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic scored 12 from midfield and Luis Alberto scored 11, as well as providing 13 assists. The next season Luis Alberto, fighting injuries, posted just four goals and five assists. Milinkovic-Savic, exhausted from the World Cup and possibly expecting a big-money move after his great season, netted only five with three assists. When he received his trophy for best midfielder of the season – a frankly ridiculous decision – he looked embarrassed. And rightly so.

Both Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto are back to their very best this season. The Serb, who looks a completely different player now compared to last season, has three goals, one of them a magnificent finish against Juventus, and five assists, while Luis Alberto has scored three goals and recorded an astonishing 11 assists – a high in Europe’s top five divisions.

As usual, top scorer Immobile is the player who reaps the benefits of the pair’s many assists. He has an astonishing 17 goals and five assists and he has even passed on a couple of penalties away to teammates. At the rate he is going, he could top his own record 29 goals from two seasons ago and he currently leads the Europen Golden Boot race, with Lewandowski, Vardi and Messi behind him. Immobile has now scored over 100 goals for Lazio across the last four seasons.

This all sounds great, you say, but it also sounds very familiar. Two years ago, Lazio were largely in the same place around Christmas. Why should we believe they won’t crumble at the end like they did two years ago? What has changed?

It is a very reasonable question. The similarities to the 17-18 season are obvious for anyone to see. The biggest change since then? There are a few. The maturity of Joaquin Correa is one of them.

When Ciro Immobile ran out of breath last season, Correa took over and was the main reason Lazio won the Coppa Italia with some very decisive goals. Correa is an astonishing player, running at defenders with the ball at his feet. Only Douglas Costa and perhaps Federico Chiesa can match him one-on-one. This is no secret and all teams double up on him, but because Lazio have so many options going forward, Correa still manages to get those one-on-ones with defenders and when he does, he is absolutely lethal. He can go right, he can go left and he has become much more clinical in the last year or so.

But Correa is not only important because he scores goals, gets assists and wins penalties. He is also important because his presence takes the pressure off Ciro Immobile, so that not everything depends on the former Torino striker. This was what took Lazio down two seasons ago. On other hand, when Immobile was going through a bad patch last term, Correa was able to take over and help deliver the Coppa Italia.

At the moment they are both on form and are a nightmare for defenders, especially when Luis Alberto is behind them to set them up. Correa has six goals and three assists to date, and he and Luis Alberto are such important weapons when teams only face Lazio to defend because their quick feet and creativity open up defences. After that, Ciro Immobile usually takes advantage at some point.

Correa is not the only change from two years ago. It is also worth mentioning that a couple of key defenders have got stronger. Francesco Acerbi, who was drafted in from Sassuolo to walk in the very large footprints of the departing Stefan De Vrij – Lazio’s outstanding defender three years running – had a decent season in 18-19 but has really stepped up since then and has also been rewarded with a spot in the Italy squad. He will probably go to the Euros this summer.

Luiz Felipe has also really improved this season and, with his pace, he is a great foil for Acerbi and Radu. Patric does a decent job whenever he gets the chance, but it is important for Lazio that the injury-prone Luiz Felipe stays fit because any replacement is a significant drop in quality.

The Lazio midfield is decent but ageing and surely sporting director Igli Tare must be looking for reinforcements in that area. Key players like Lucas Leiva and Marco Parolo are 31 and 33 respectively, and their replacements on the bench might not have the quality necessary to take over.

The last significant change from two seasons ago is the fact that Lazio have no European competition in the spring. Their Europe League campaign was a shambles, but all in all that might not be such a bad thing for them now. They can now concentrate on Serie A and defending their Coppa Italia trophy - as much of a lottery as that obviously is. Their lack of European football this spring might hurt their pride slightly – Lazio have done fairly well in the Europa League for a number of years – but if they can finally get into the Champions League, their failed run in the second-tier tournament will be forgotten quickly.

Lazio going forward is a sight to behold this season, and they’re a team who can beat anyone on their day. But it is necessary that they take advantage of their chances this time around. The great, lost season of two years ago still hurts in Rome. At the moment, Napoli are struggling but they will probably find their way back at some point, although it might already be too late this season. Milan won’t be in the dark forever either, and these are clubs with bigger budgets and in Napoli’s case probably also better and bigger squads.

The point is, historically and financially, Lazio are a just-below-the-top team who should be competing with the likes of Napoli, Roma and Fiorentina for the fourth spot in Serie A. Juventus, Milan and Inter should be completely out of sight four out of five seasons. The Nerazzurri have found their way out of the tunnel, whereas Milan and Napoli are both going through crises at the moment. Therefore, Lazio need to take advantage while they have the team and chance.

Generally speaking, Lazio will have an opportunity to get to into the top four once or twice a decade. They had one golden chance to get into the promised land of the Champions League two seasons ago and they wasted the opportunity. If they waste another one, who knows when they will get another?

How long will Correa, 23, Milinkovic-Savic, 23, and Alberto, 25, stick around if they miss another Champions League edition and Premier League clubs come sniffing around with huge offers? There is no doubt that Lotito would love to see money rolling in for those players, but would he not rather make his money by actually playing in the Champions League? Lazio better not blow it again this season.

Karsten Krogh is a Serie A commentator based in Copenhagen and has worked on more than 300 Serie A matches for Danish viewers over the last 15 years.

Have your say...
Lazio is a dangerous attacking team that at times is relentless. Credit to Inzaghi who plays fearless attacking football, its fun to watch. Obviously this type of game is vulnerable to the counter attack and can lead to diasater against disciplined opponents but they seem to have become more experienced to the risks inherent in this type of football. Beating Juventas twice is no smaill feat, Juve wanted that Suoercoppa and Lazio has sounded a warning call to all in Serie A: BEWARE
on the 27th December, 2019 at 4:09pm
So much time to turn the game around. It used to be 30 seconds for subs not that referees take that into consideration but now they want players to exit the field at the closest place possible so adding so much extra minutes for that is stupid.Hopefully Lazio do not suffer from this in the future.
on the 19th December, 2019 at 11:37am
attempting to waste time but was played stopped every single time they did that? It doesn’t matter if Cagliari had benefited from similar scenario last week as 6 minutes injury time for no Var or any other incident is too much and a nonsense. What is the point in booking a player for time wasting if you are going to add so much time. No it’s not part of any rules I know to give the losing side
on the 19th December, 2019 at 11:30am
@us of Totti you are right when you say 7 minutes is a huge boost . The team looking to equalise would be massively boosted by it while the side looking to hold would be deflated. Can you imagine what seeing 7 extra minutes would have done to both sides especially when nothing happened to warrant such a generous time. I saw clasico last night and there was a disruption by protesters, head injuries to Bale, 5 subs and the referee awarded 5 minutes. I know you guys are saying Cagliari players were
on the 19th December, 2019 at 11:25am
2. For people attacking you that a minute or two of added time isn't controversial, that teams should "shut up & play till the end"...
They are wrong.

Sometimes "7 additional minutes" can put wings into a team, inspire them to score not one, but SEVERAL goals!!!
If Cagliari had not stole so much time, these 7 minutes would indeed be rightly HIGHLY controversial.

Dennis, you are right about Napoli-Atalanta game...
But that has nothing to do with this one.
That ref was wrong. This one wasn't.
on the 18th December, 2019 at 10:10pm
@ Dennis,
1. I am sorry but you are wrong.

I was reading a book while watching the game, but whenever I looked up Cagliari players were on the ground DISGRACEFULLY wasting time.
I didn't even twitch when 7 minutes were added.
Lazio didn't get any favours and this coming from a Roma fan should mean something to you ;) --I was cheering for Cagliari victory!

Cagliari should've been 2-3 goals up only in first half but twice didn't pass to open Simeone...

It is extremely hard to play in Sardinia.
on the 18th December, 2019 at 9:57pm
@Dennis- it wasn't a favourable decision, it was the laws of the game! Didn't Cagliari score after 6 minutes the other week with Cerri, even though only 6 minutes was allocated? This shouldn't even be a discussion point! This is all just nerves because Lazio have outplayed everyone in Serie A, even when they lost to Inter and Handanovic was MOM.
on the 18th December, 2019 at 7:23pm
5 substitutions same as Cagliari vs Lazio as Nainggolan was taken off after the 7 minutes was allocated. There was no lengthy VAR check, it was just very bizarre. Anyways Lazio fans I hope you do remember this favourable decision if you do get a bad call in the future.
on the 18th December, 2019 at 4:28pm
@Bobo i do see your point even though I do not recall him being on the floor for that long. My view is that players that feign injury should be banned retrospectively. As for the others there is little justification for that amount of time added especially if you cast your minds back to Napoli vs Atalanta; VAR was used that went on for a long time, Ancelotti was red carded and before that Callejon was on the floor for a while having had his head almost chopped off. 8 minutes was added and that
on the 18th December, 2019 at 4:22pm
Contenders for what?
on the 18th December, 2019 at 3:22pm
... is over (keeping key players fit is paramount), I would like to add that (even more importantly) the recent string of late goals and deciders shows that Inzaghi might have just developed some of this "grinta" and winning mentality they seemed to often miss in the past.
on the 18th December, 2019 at 2:05pm
Dennis, why should people talk about the 7 minutes? First, the referee justified it and second - in football you play to the whistle, it's basic stuff. Complaining about a minute or two more added is just petty and deflecting blame (to Cagliary) and fame (to Lazio).
On Lazio - the team is doing great indeed, but we've seen strong starts in previous seasons too. The article makes a good case for why they can can keep it going in 2020, but we have to wait and see. To the obvious fact that EL...
on the 18th December, 2019 at 1:58pm
Are they planning to keep SMS. Then better start spending from now. As longer as they spend on equal term with roma. Then start talking about lazio being a top club and gradually a title contender..............
on the 18th December, 2019 at 1:26pm
The 7+ minutes added time was justified, Cagliari president said "The explanation we were given was that the medical staff came on five times and it doesn’t matter how long they spend on the pitch, you add a minute. There were six substitutions, so they are 30 seconds each". Also the last sub was made at added on injury time plus lazio scored so more time was added.
on the 18th December, 2019 at 12:36pm

you know what's the probable reason why the game was extended so much? in 88th minute, cagliari's nandez was hit by a BALL in the arm. he fell down in agony like he was struck by lightning. then the medical staff came in. they were patching him there for at least like 2 or 3 minutes. it was the most disgraceful time wasting I ever saw. I bet the referee and/or VAR room saw the same thing and thought "you've got to be kidding me, que vergogna, here's 7 minutes for you". instant karma
on the 18th December, 2019 at 12:26pm
I find it astonishing that nobody is talking about the 7 minutes of injury time awarded in the game against Cagliari. If this was Juventus we wouldn’t have heard the last of it. It was disgraceful by the referee as even 4 minutes would have been too much. Didn’t see the 1st half but in the 2nd half Cagliari wasted some great chances none more than Simeone when put clear by Nainggolan. It was interesting to read that Immobile and Savic earn the same amount as bang average Borini.
on the 18th December, 2019 at 10:10am
Every blog on Football Italia and this guy Ferban constantly gives negative comments about every club.
I always remember this Ferban name.
on the 18th December, 2019 at 8:59am
Finally a decent article about Lazio on FI. It was embarrassing to read the Liveblog which clearly showed how much this site hates Lazio being successful. Lazio aren't likely to win the title, but they have being playing the best football in Serie A this season, and if Ronaldo or Dybala was scoring like Immobile we would hear about it on a daily basis.
on the 17th December, 2019 at 10:25pm
I doubt they're contenders.

Far too many average players overall in the squad. This is an ongoing issue at Lazio. They tend to have a few top players sprinkled through an above-average, cheaply-assembled squad, and that usually means they're found out over the course of a season.

And they were shameful in Europe too.
on the 17th December, 2019 at 9:34pm
As a Massive LAZIO fan i say we played RUBBISH in first half against cagliari WE should have been 3-4 goals down LUCKY they didn't take their chances. I would rather say we concentrate on top 4 finish BUT we can still win the Scudetto if we play UGLY and still gets points. Lets hope we add more quality players in Jan Transfer.
on the 17th December, 2019 at 9:22pm

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