Things can change so quickly in football. Less than a year ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Lazio fan who wasn’t optimistic for the future. The Biancocelesti were on a 21-game unbeaten run, were challenging with Juventus for the Scudetto and seemed to be on the verge of securing Champions League qualification for the first time in over a decade.
Fast forward to the present, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Lazio fan who isn’t pessimistic about the future. The Biancocelesti’s unbeaten run was ended post-lockdown, and their form took a nosedive, ending their Scudetto chances. Gaps in the squad were identified: Lazio needed better defenders, more strength-in-depth and someone to replace the ageing Senad Lulic on the left-wing. Only one of these gaps were filled ahead of the new season.
Predictably, Lazio’s disastrous post-lockdown form has continued into the current season, with the club currently sitting 14th in the league with just one win from their four opening games. Their most recent game - against Sampdoria - resulted in a 3-0 loss. It was a sorry affair, with Simone Inzaghi’s side showing little fight as the Blucerchiati cruised to a resounding victory.
The game seemed cursed from the beginning. Capoconniere holder Ciro Immobile was suspended, while six players were out with injuries. Perhaps most alarmingly, Inzaghi’s first-choice wing-backs - Lulic and Manuel Lazzari - were among the six. This was a major issue as Lazio’s other full-backs Adam Marusic and Mohamed Fares - were not in a condition to be starting the game.
Unwilling to deviate from his 3-5-2 formation, Inzaghi started Marco Parolo and Djavan Anderson on the wings. Putting it frankly, a wing-back Parolo is not; he’s a central midfielder in his mid-thirties. As for Anderson - who’s spent most of his career playing in the Italian and Dutch second divisions - it is questionable whether he’s good enough for a team who qualified for the Champions League last season.
Inzaghi’s gamble didn’t pay off and the pair were substituted for Marusic and Fares at half-time. This wasn’t entirely the manager’s fault of course, blame can also be attributed to Claudio Lotito for failing to provide Lazio with the strength-in-depth they required in the summer. And you could argue that the outcome of the game could’ve been different had Lotito done that.
What Inzaghi’s gamble revealed, however, is his tactical stubbornness, and this could be a big problem should Lazio’s injury problems persist. Playing a 34-year old central midfielder and a Serie B-standard player on the wings was never going to work.
Another aspect that Lotito should’ve adequately addressed during the summer was the defence. His failure to do that is probably part of the reason why Lazio have conceded eight goals in their last three games. Wesley Hoedt isn’t the solution to that problem; he’s just another subpar centre-back in a squad that’s full of them.
Hoedt does deserve some sympathy though. He was at fault for Fabio Quagliarella’s opening goal, but he hasn’t played a minute of competitive football since March. Did Inzaghi really expect him to be at his sharpest?
And in fairness to Hoedt, he was no worse than any other Lazio player on the pitch. In fact, the entire team seemed to be lacking in determination and confidence, issues which were probably made worse after the result on Saturday.
With the transfer window now shut, it’s difficult to foresee how Lazio can rescue their season. There’s no way the Biancocelesti can simultaneously compete in the Serie A and the Champions League with a squad this thin - injuries or not.
And if you asked any Lazio fan what they’d prefer: another top-four finish or a good European campaign, they’d pick the former. They shouldn’t have to. Lotito should’ve built a side capable of building from last seasons successes, but now it seems they’re regressing. It gets to the point where you have to question whether Lotito has taken Lazio are far as they can go with him.