“I couldn’t miss out on that hug with my lads, especially after the week we’ve had.”
Indeed, no one could blame Simone Inzaghi for rushing off his bench to celebrate Lazio’s last-minute winner against Torino with his players. It had probably been, with the coronavirus outbreak within his squad, the toughest week of his managerial career so far, and he had every reason to be proud of his players for weathering that storm.
The day before their Champions League clash with Club Brugge, it had been reported that multiple members of Lazio’s squad had either tested positive for coronavirus or were showing symptoms of it, leaving them with just 13 first-team players for the game. Nonetheless, Lazio put in a good shift; their remaining exhausted players defending valiantly to come away from Belgium with a well-earned point.
It would’ve been a big ask to expect them to do it again in their following Serie A fixture, an away trip to Torino. Despite this, it became clear that it was very much Lazio’s intention to fulfil that fixture, raising some eyebrows due to the fact that - with the information available at the time - the Biancocelesti would’ve met the criteria to request a postponement.
They must’ve known something we didn’t. The likes of Ciro Immobile, Lucas Leiva and Luiz Felipe, who were absent for the Club Brugge game, had returned to training a day prior to their match against Torino. Still, taking into account that most of their players either hadn’t trained with the team since Tuesday, or were still shattered from the game on Wednesday, winning at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino would be a difficult task.
That’s precisely what it was. Lazio started strongly, pressing Torino well and managing to dominate possession. Their efforts were rewarded after 15 minutes, with Andreas Pereira getting a goal on his first-ever start for the club. It was goal symbolic of the strong bond that this Lazio side has with each other. Vedat Muriqi was on the receiving end of a lovely Sergej Milinkovic-Savic chip, and crossed it over to a sprinting Patric, who, without giving it a second thought, squared it to Pereira, who whacked it into the back of the net.
The lead wouldn’t last. Torino cancelled out that goal four minutes later, with Bremer losing his marker in the Lazio box to head the ball past Pepe Reina with little challenge. Six minutes after that, Torino scored again, with Andrea Belotti dispatching a penalty which gave Il Toro the lead going into half-time.
Lazio aren’t a team who lie down or break under difficult circumstances, however, with Milinkovic-Savic scoring an equalising free-kick just after half-time. From that point forward, Torino enforced something of a defensive policy; their winless side clearly happy to come away from this game with a draw.
Just when a draw seemed set in stone, Sasa Lukic took advantage of a defensive horror-show on Lazio’s part to score what looked like the winning goal for Torino with four minutes to go. No one would’ve criticised the Biancoclesti players for taking their foot off the gas after that; it was their fifth game in 16 days and their thin squad were clearly - physically and probably mentally - drained.
But Lazio didn’t take their foot off the gas. Ever since that embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Sampdoria in mid-October, Lazio’s players had been giving blood, sweat, and tears to ensure nothing like that ever happened again, and this game was no exception. In the dying minutes of the game, the Biancocelesti were rewarded with a penalty, which Immobile, who had come off the bench earlier in the half, duly scored.
Everyone associated with Lazio would’ve taken that; a hard-fought draw earned under difficult circumstances, but the Biancocelesti aren’t a side who just settle. In the eighth minute of stoppage time, Felipe Caicedo received the ball in the box and was surrounded by eight Torino players. Undeterred, he managed to slide the ball past Salvatore Sirigu to give his side the win.
This prompted almost every Lazio official - on the pitch or on the bench - to mob Caicedo, releasing the stresses of what had been an unspeakably difficult week for the club. They’ve shown a tremendous amount of spirit in their recent games, and the way the earned the Torino victory was emblematic of that. With this in mind, one his little reason not to feel optimistic about Lazio this season.