After a stunning campaign that saw Lazio return to the Champions League for the first time in eight years, the club have had a surprisingly quiet summer. Alasdair Mackenzie examines the Aquile’s prospects.
Success naturally breeds expectation. After an unexpected third-place finish in Stefano Pioli’s first term in the capital, Lazio now face the imposing task of proving that is where they belong.
There is no doubting that the fans feel it is, and the Biancocelesti’s apparent ability to keep the stars of last season suggests that the players believe it too.
It has been a relatively quiet summer on the transfer front for the Aquile, with the focus being on retaining key players and signing young talent, rather than following Serie A’s summer trend of upheaval.
The likes of Antonio Candreva, Felipe Anderson, Marco Parolo and Stefan de Vrij appear almost certain to form the core of the side again next season, although Lucas Biglia’s future remains clouded in doubt despite the Argentine being given the captain’s armband.
The vacancy was freed up after Stefano Mauri, scorer of nine League goals in his most prolific campaign ever last term, was surprisingly released. The 35-year-old’s departure, believed to be linked to his ongoing connection to the Calcioscommesse scandal, was followed by that of vice-captain Cristian Ledesma.
Although both players are inarguably in the twilight of their playing careers, they provided a significant contribution to the squad in terms of leadership and their absence will leave a void that will need to be filled by others taking on more responsibility.
Candreva was expected to be handed the captaincy after becoming the runaway fan favourite for the position, but the Italy international had to make do with vice after Biglia was chosen. This move looked suspiciously like an attempt to convince the Argentine to stay, rather than reward his leadership abilities, and Candreva was reportedly upset as a result.
This unsettled atmosphere in the dressing room could provide Pioli’s first real challenge of the campaign. In pre-season, Lazio fell to defeats against Vicenza, Anderlecht, Sigma Olomouc and Mainz before losing the Super Cup 2-0 to Juventus in Shanghai.
However, if the Coach can help recreate the positive atmosphere bubbling from the team last season, there is reason to believe they can target the top three again.
While the sides around them such as Juventus, Inter and Milan are undergoing huge reconstruction, the Aquile have made astute additions while trimming what was a bloated squad.
Wesley Hoedt, Ravel Morrison, Patric Gabarron, Ricardo Kishna and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic have all arrived, and the five of them have an average age of 21.
The club’s continued faith in youth deserves praise and provides an excellent blueprint for future success. But if the Biancocelesti can defeat Bayer Leverkusen in their play-off and reach the Champions League group stage for the first time in eight years, they will face the unfamiliar challenge of maintaining domestic consistency while trying to impress on Europe’s biggest stage.
However, Pioli has maintained a well-balanced squad, with better quality in depth than the Curva Nord faithful have seen in recent years. Although there are still issues to address, the Coach can be quietly confident that he can manage to avoid a bout of second-season syndrome.
After taking the Biancocelesti reins last summer, the 49-year-old went on to turn as many heads as his players. After a hitherto not-so-glorious coaching career, Pioli led the Aquile back into the Champions League at the first time of asking and reached the Coppa Italia Final.
How a year can change a man. After an indifferent debut season in 2013-14, the Brazilian starred in Lazio’s superb campaign, providing a rich bounty of goals and assists for his side. With quick feet, great vision and a deadly finishing ability, the 22-year-old is ready to demonstrate his prowess on Europe’s biggest stage.
Lazio focused on youth for their summer buys, and the former Genk midfielder appears to be the most intriguing arrival. The 20-year-old arrives with a €9m price tag and the promise of great potential, and he should be given chances to shine in Pioli’s preferred three-man midfield.
A product of the prolific Aquile Primavera system, Cataldi began to get regular game time for the senior side last term and has already been heralded by the Curva Nord as a future captain. After impressing at Under-21 level for the Azzurri, a senior call-up may not be far off if his ascent continues.
Marchetti; Basta, De Vrij, Mauricio, Radu; Parolo, Biglia, Lulic; Candreva, Klose, Felipe Anderson
Should Lazio reach the Champions League group stages, it will be a big ask to perform as impressively on the domestic scene as last season. Despite other Serie A sides strengthening, the Biancoceleste’s squad should continue to gel and secure a European spot.
Keep up to date with all the Serie A transfers with Football Italia's summer 2015 transfer table.