Lazio have been Serie A’s best side in recent weeks. While their Europa League campaign was scuppered by throwing away leads to Cluj and Celtic, the Biancocelesti have turned that disappointed into an advantage in domestic competition.
Simone Inzaghi's men have not lost a single league game in over three months and are on a run of eight consecutive Serie A victories. Their last loss came at the hands of Inter back in September, followed by nine wins and two draws. They find themselves third in the table, only six points behind Inter and Juventus, but with a game in hand.
The recent win over Juve in the Supercoppa Italiana only consolidated their hard-earned status after beating Atalanta to the Coppa Italia in May. Lazio are the only team to have beaten Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus and did it twice in under a month. During the decade of Bianconeri domination, nobody else won more silverware than the Aquile.
It is time to believe the hype. Lazio have Luis Alberto with his record number of 11 assists, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues this season. Ciro Immobile has 17 goals in just 16 Serie A games. They have the indefatigable Francesco Acerbi in defence and a revitalised Sergej Milinkovic-Savic for the midfield.
What makes it better is that the results have been a combination of close-run things and dominating wins. They beat Fiorentina, Cagliari, Milan and Sassuolo because of late goals. They did struggle at some stages of these games, but came out with three points. That is a huge step forward in terms of mentality for this squad. They know how to grind out results and win even if they aren't at their best. It says a lot about the players and how they've come of age under Inzaghi.
Another reason for their run of late wins is strength off the bench, as Felipe Caicedo scored stoppage-time winners against Sassuolo and Cagliari. If Joaquin Correa can just be more clinical in his finishing after out-sprinting opposition defences, they could be truly dangerous.
Lazio have the second-best defence in the division - something that Inzaghi would have always wanted, but rarely got a glimpse of in the past. His pragmatic 3-5-2 shape is reaping dividends, as they continue to look like a well-drilled unit at the back. They present a near-perfect combination of a strong mentality, being rock solid at the back and having enough upfront to score buckets of goals. It is everything Inzaghi ever dreamt of.
Fabio Capello suggested the main problem with Lazio was believing their own abilities. Atalanta made the step up in the Champions League once they started to accept they belonged there and could play their usual brand of high-intensity football. The Biancocelesti may lack experience at the top level, but if La Dea can do it, then so can they. This could even represent the start of a journey towards a future Scudetto challenge.
At a time when Juve are still settling under Sarri, Atalanta are distracted by the Champions League and being spread too thin, while Napoli and Milan have tanked, Lazio have never had a better chance of capturing a top four spot.