A complete reshuffle was needed in the blue half of Rome after a disappointing last season. With the arrival of a new Coach and some exciting signings, the Biancocelesti could bounce back, explains Alasdair Mackenzie.
After a tumultuous season marred by fan protests and crippling inconsistency, Lazio finished the 2013-14 campaign in ninth place. This was the club’s lowest standing in four years and the first time since then that they had failed to qualify for Europe, meaning that big changes were expected this summer.
They began as Edy Reja left Formello for the second time, to be replaced by Stefano Pioli. The 48-year-old may well become a success but remains an uninspiring choice given his lack of top-level experience and he will have to prove his worth quickly by demonstrating why he has a reputation for entertaining football and developing youngsters.
With new management in place, the squad overhaul began. Filip Djordjevic’s transfer from Nantes had been agreed before the market opened, and he was soon joined by Italy international Marco Parolo and Serbian winger Dusan Basta. Perhaps most crucially, the Biancoceleste secured full ownership of Antonio Candreva from Udinese at the same time.
Despite these astute acquisitions, fans of the club remained incredulous that Igli Tare and Claudio Lotito were failing to bring in some much-needed centre-backs and this tension soon escalated. Tare assured the fans a deal was in place for Davide Astori, only to see the Cagliari defender stun Lazio’s sporting director by making a U-turn overnight and finalising a move to rivals Roma instead.
Lotito knew that a big signing was needed to make up for such a fiasco, and he soon delivered Netherlands international Stefan de Vrij in one of the most impressive transfer coups of the summer. However, a defensive partner for De Vrij is still desperately needed and the club’s attention is focused sharply on securing another big name before the window closes.
The squad has enjoyed a peaceful pre-season, training in the idyllic Auronzo di Cadore before having a short tour of Germany. The highlight was the form of Felipe Anderson, as the Brazilian looks determined to show why the club paid such big money for him last summer. Pioli has also spent time introducing more youngsters into the senior team, with Danilo Cataldi and Mamadou Tounkara looking like they may have a part to play this term.
Club President Lotito continues to assert that he is building a Lazio that will compete in the Champions League, but this target still seems overly ambitious for the club. However, without another gruelling Europa League campaign to worry about, the squad can focus solely on domestic football and they have strengthened well enough to aim for a top six finish. Getting back into Europe will be the minimum expectation with anything else a bonus, and Pioli will have to learn fast that things can get messy quite quickly when performances start to drop.
The fans themselves will also play a big part in the club’s aspirations for the upcoming season. With large groups of Ultras abandoning the Curva Nord in protests against Lotito for the latter part of last season, the team had to find motivation from the scattering of fans that turned up to the vast arena of the Olimpico. Should these protests continue, Pioli will have a hugely more challenging task on his hands to drag Lazio back into the higher reaches of Serie A.
The 48-year-old’s appointment came as a surprise to many, having been sacked by Bologna in January and with spells at Palermo, Chievo and Parma not living long in the memory. However, the squad has taken to his methods and his promise to deliver ‘entertaining, attacking football’ will certainly make a change from the reign of Edy Reja.
The Italy international is now undoubtedly Lazio’s star man and will soon be rewarded with a lucrative new contract. Excellent from set pieces, an expert at crossing and with an eye for goal, it is easy to understand why he has attracted interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
The 22-year-old was one of the stars of an impressive Netherlands team at the World Cup and his arrival can be considered a real success for the club. With his best years still in front of him, De Vrij will be needed to shore up a defence that lost Lazio so many points last season.
After a forgettable season in which the goalkeeper struggled with injuries and poor form, Marchetti is looking to get back to his imperious best. With Gigi Buffon edging towards retirement age, Lazio’s No 1 will want to become part of the argument over who should be the Juventus custodian’s successor.
Marchetti; BASTA, DE VRIJ, Radu, Lulic; PAROLO, Ledesma, Biglia; Candreva, Klose, Keita
With the squad strengthened and no midweek Europa League fixtures, Lazio should have enough quality to secure a European spot, although they may need to wait a little longer for Lotito’s promised Champions League place.
|De Vrij (Feyenoord)||D||Biava (Atalanta)||D|
|Braafheid (Hoffenheim)||D||Dias (released)||D|
|Vinicius (Padova)||D||Kakuta (Chelsea)||M|
|Basta (Udinese)||M||Crecco (Ternana)||M|
|Cataldi (Crotone)||M||Postiga (Valencia)||A|
|Parolo (Parma)||M||Lombardi (Trapani)||A|