The blue side of Rome has not been a cheerful place this season. Protests against Lazio owner Claudio Lotito have dominated the headlines after the relentless struggle between the President and Ultras was intensified by the departure of the talismanic Hernanes in January. Fans were enraged by the departure of a leader, a goalscorer, a set piece expert and an iconic part of the club’s recent history. Yet one man was up to the task of filling the void the Brazilian left behind him - Antonio Candreva.
Candreva’s late-season form has been so impressive that the toxic atmosphere surrounding the club has faded somewhat, as the winger has led his team from the risk of mid-table obscurity back into European contention.
Sweeping home the penalty that sealed a vital 2-0 win over Livorno on Sunday, Candreva hit a historic landmark by becoming the club’s most prolific midfielder in a single season. His 12th goal of the campaign took him beyond the previous record shared by Pavel Nedved, the shaggy-haired icon of a bygone Scudetto-winning era, and a certain Brazilian known as ‘il Profeta’.
Importantly, six of Candreva’s goals have been penalties. Whilst some may argue this weakens the overall significance of his tally, it could instead be another contributing factor for Cesare Prandelli selecting him. The beautiful Penanka-inspired chip penalty he scored to open the shoot-out against Spain in the Confederations Cup semi-final last year is a case in point of when a calm and clinical set-piece taker is needed in big international competitions.
Candreva has played for every level of the Azzurri set-up from the Under-18s upwards. He is no stranger to donning the famous blue shirt, yet it was only last year that the midfielder truly embedded himself in Prandelli’s plans, winning 13 of his 19 caps in the calendar year of 2013. This was largely due to his versatility as a midfield player, as under Prandelli the 27-year-old has impressed in a more central role as well as in his natural position on the wing.
It is this experience and versatility that may give him the advantage over players such as Alessio Cerci and Alessandro Florenzi. Despite their undoubted talents, neither of those stars has played as regularly for the national side nor has the ability to play as effectively in a more withdrawn role. Candreva is excellent technically and has a devastating right foot that has helped him clock up 10 assists this season alongside his 12 goals.
He comfortably leads Lazio’s scoring charts and has found top form at the opportune moment, with that penalty against Livorno marking the winger’s fifth goal in his last five games. Candreva is a player Prandelli cannot afford to ignore - a precocious talent with the ability to score, create and perform a variety of roles across the midfield. With his confidence sky-high following the turnaround in Lazio’s fortunes, he would certainly enjoy the chance to leave a few more goalkeepers red-faced on the world stage.