It's been 20 seasons since Lazio last celebrated their second and final Scudetto success, but they are in with a genuine chance for a third crown this year.
Back at the turn of the millennium, just as it seemed now, the Biancocelesti were the outsiders. They trailed Juventus by five points with just three matches remaining, but managed to overhaul the Bianconeri and won Serie A in their centenary year. Currently, they trail the eight-time defending champions by five points with a game in hand, maybe a case of deja vu?
Unlike that team under Sven Goran-Eriksson, was built with the riches of Sergio Cragnotti, this version of Le Aquile has been slowly and gradually put together. Under the astute tutelage of Simone Inzaghi, sporting director Igli Tare has supplied the former player with hidden gems, revitalised players who were lost and added genuine quality where possible.
The likes of Thomas Strakosha in goal, Francesco Acerbi at the back, Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in the middle and Europe's current top scorer Ciro Immobile up front have all had sublime moments this and recent years. So far they have picked up 15 victories in 21 matches with just two losses. Included in this run are two wins over Juve (one in the Supercoppa Italiana) and a first win over Milan in Lombardy for 30 years.
It's not just that they are winning... they are entertaining as well. They have managed 52 goals so far this season, second only to Atalanta. When they win the ball from their opponents, they move it forward with the speed and precision of an eagle in full flight heading towards its destination. The players have bought into Inzaghi's inspirational words, seem to move in unison and have a telepathic understanding of where each other are at any given moment, even without looking.
One criticism though of Inzaghi and this team is that they have not been able to make an impact in Europe, as they were bounced out of the Europa League group stage. He has not, nor has anyone connected with the 1999 Cup Winners Cup winners publicly stated as such, but given their lack of squad depth, it was always going to be difficult for them to compete on three fronts. Last year, they made it only as far as the Round of 32, but triumphed in the Coppa Italia. They have already been knocked out of the domestic cup this year by Napoli, so their sole priority is the league.
This gives the squad a full week to prepare between games, so Inzaghi can work on tactics and motivating his troops, the players that extra bit of time to overcome any niggling injuries and all and sundry to work with serenity and calmness that is not always present in the Eternal City, where passions run high.
Following the rescheduled game against Verona this evening, Lazio's run for the rest of the month of February could be deemed challenging, but it’s not improbable to say that they could win every fixture. Away trips to Parma and Genoa, who are fighting for Europe and survival respectively, are coupled by home games versus fellow Scudetto hopefuls Inter and a solid Bologna outfit.
Many had expected that Lazio would have fallen by the wayside by now. In recent years, it was just what "Lazio do.” They would start the season well, have a few eye catching victories, but ultimately by the turn of the year, the feel good nature would dissipate and would be at best challengers for the top four and Champions League football. However, there seems to be a slightly different feel about this squad, as the confidence and belief that they have in their manager and each other is on full view, week in and week out.
That belief was no more evident than when they went behind to Juve at home back in early December, only to storm back and claim a 3-1 win. They still have to go to Turin to face La Vecchia Signora and that clash in April could very well be the title decider. Lazio have been there before.
When they won that Scudetto two decades ago, they also travelled to face Juve in the month of April and came away with a one-goal victory, courtesy of a Diego Simeone strike. By the time they go to the Allianz Juventus Stadium on April 26, the Serie A standings could very well be just as tight as they are right now. Of course, that match will mean nothing unless they keep up with the top two, starting with a victory today against Verona.
If they can continue their recent run and keep pace with Juve and Inter, there is no reason why they can't be the one lifting the Scudetto on the May 24. Deja vu...
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