Just three days before their Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund, a result that upset the football betting, Lazio had what Simone Inzaghi described as “one of the worst performances [the’ve] ever delivered”, as they lost 3-0 to a Sampdoria side who were battling relegation last season.
It wasn’t just about the defeat - itself embarrassing - but also the manner by which that defeat was handed out. Lazio seemed to be lacking in confidence and direction from the very beginning and there didn’t seem to be any attempt to stage some sort of comeback once Sampdoria took the lead.
Consequently, their 3-1 win over Dortmund just days later took many by surprise. It wasn’t just about the victory - itself impressive – but, once again, also the manner by which they earned that victory. Lazio were energetic and aggressive, creating plenty of chances while also displaying a degree of defensive solidity; the polar opposite of how they played against Sampdoria on Saturday. The star of the show, was, of course, European Golden Shoe holder Ciro Immobile, who managed to bag himself a goal and an assist against the team he once played for.
It’s rare that Immobile will come across a striker as ruthless in front of goal as he is, but Tuesday was an exception. Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Braut Haaland exploded onto the scene last year and has quickly established himself as one of Europe’s most prolific goalscorers. Indeed, the Norwegian was the second-highest goalscorer in the Champions League last season, scoring ten goals in just eight appearances.
The stage was set for a battle between Haaland and Immobile to see who can outscore each other, but in the end, both strikers managed to get a goal apiece. This doesn’t tell the full story about their overall performances, however. Haaland - like the rest of his Dortmund teammates - was oddly quiet through most of the game; his spectacular thunderstrike in the 71st minute being his only moment of note.
Immobile, on the other hand, worked tirelessly for his team. While his goal was more opportunistic and less aesthetically pleasing than Haaland’s. The Italian could also take his revenge on German media who said he was ‘Dortmund’s worst signing ever’ when he joined the Bundesliga giants from Torino back in 2014.
His assist for Lazio’s third demonstrated just how important he is for the Biancocelesti even when not in front of goal; he sprinted with the ball into the box - outpacing the Dortmund defenders - and squared it to a waiting Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro, who powerfully struck it into the back of the net.
The contrast between Lazio’s performances against Sampdoria and Dortmund have raised questions of whether the Biancocelesti are becoming too reliant on Immobile to get a result. This is due to the fact that the 30-year-old was suspended for Lazio’s humiliating defeat to Sampdoria, but present for their victory over Dortmund. Something similar happened when Immobile was suspended for the Milan game back in July. The Biancocelesti seemed devoid of confidence during that game and were thumped 3-0. It was a result that marked the beginning of Lazio’s decline towards the end of last season.
If the Biancocelesti need the presence of Immobile to lift the whole team, then Inzaghi has a problem on his hands. He can’t be expected to start each and every game this season, especially when Lazio are playing twice a week. The arrival of Vedat Muriqi could remedy this somewhat, but it requires the Kosovan to develop into a regular goalscorer for the Biancocelesti, so his teammates are calm about where the goals are coming from should Immobile be absent.
Inzaghi should also still be concerned about Lazio’s league form and their ongoing injury crisis amid an already thin squad. He’d be hoping that their win over Dortmund will provide his team with the self-belief needed for his team to improve their domestic performances and climb up the table. A top-four finish is not beyond the realms of possibility at this point, though they wouldn’t want to lose any more ground.