Coppa Italia: Winners / Team rating: [7/10] / Top scorer: Ciro Immobile (15) / Europe: Europa League Round of 32
Lazio claimed a seventh Coppa Italia trophy, but under-performing in the Europa League and Serie A will have left the club with some regrets, writes Vijay Rahaman.
Heading into the 2018-2019 season, Lazio's main aim was to go one better than their previous campaign. On a dramatic final day in May 2018, the Biancocelesti lost 2-3 to Inter at home to see them fail to make the Champions League, and having kept hold of the majority of that squad, it was thought that the Romans could make that step up. Unfortunately, though, it was not meant to be. However, a Coppa Italia trophy and chance for another in the Italian Super Cup next season means that all those involved with the club can hold their heads high.
Obviously the disappointment of not making Europe's most prestigious competition after being seemingly on the cusp of it for several years now will leave a bitter taste in the mouth. The Aquile's entertaining brand of quick counter-attacking football will give their fans reason to be optimistic going forward.
At the start of the campaign, after a negative beginning, a section of the Lazio fanbase protested stars Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto for what was considered an invitation for offers from bigger clubs. They were vehemently defended by Coach Simone Inzaghi, who besides kept growing as a tactician, has also become a real player's manager, where you can see his troops always ready to go to battle.
Besides those already there, Inzaghi was able to integrate the new recruits quite effectively. Francesco Acerbi came in as a replacement for Stefan de Vrij and superbly marshalled the defence, while Lucas Leiva became an even more integral member in his second season. Up front, while Ciro Immobile had a real drop off in production, the Neapolitan still managed 15 strikes and was ably supported by Felipe Caicedo and inspired summer signing Joaquin Correa, who contributed eight and six goals respectively. Milinkovic-Savic, a somewhat surprise choice for the Serie A Midfielder of the Year, despite an up and down run, came up big, scoring the opening goal in the club's Coppa Italia triumph.
It was not all plain sailing for the club of course, as besides their Champions League challenge peetering out quite tamely, they crashed out of Europe in rather disappointing circumstances. While they negotiated a tough first round group, which contained Marseille and Eintracht Frankfurt, they lost both games in their Round of 32 tie without scoring a goal against Sevilla. Going forward, improving their performances in Europe is almost certainly to be a priority for the 1999 Cup Winners Cup victors.
However, to compete on three fronts especially in modern football, a club needs a deep squad, something which is not a luxury Lazio have at the moment. The first team can give anyone in Italy and even in Europe a competitive game on its day, but past the starting XI, the quality is sorely lacking. President Claudio Lotito has long since been accused of being "stingy" and not investing in the playing staff enough, will he be willing to open the purse strings a bit more to give the club that final bit of quality to make the top four? Only time will tell.
Also, rumours of the Coach being courted by the likes of Juventus and Milan may not help the club in his short to long term ambitions. Inzaghi is an ambitious manager, and while he has Lazio in his heart, having spent 11 years in the blue half of the capital, he might be wondering how far he can actually take this team under the present financial realities. When he took over the club, they were in a mess, however, he has guided them to three successive European qualifying finishes and delivered two trophies. He has a solid ground to stand on as far as player recruitment is concerned.
The most significant part of Lazio's season was undoubtedly the month of April, both in a positive and negative aspect. Following a 1-0 victory over Inter at San Siro (they also knocked out the Nerazzurri of the Coppa Italia in Milano), they were right in the thick of the tussle for Champions League football. However, they promptly went on a run which saw them gain just four points out of a possible 15, which included losses to SPAL and Chievo, which effectively killed their top four ambitions. On the positive side, they knocked out Milan in the Coppa Italia semi-final.
By this point, the club were planning for their Coppa Italia showdown with high-flying Atalanta and in that Stadio Olimpico Final, Inzaghi got his tactics spot on. His players pressed and harried La Dea throughout the showpiece event, giving them little room to play their now customary free-flowing football and second half goals from Milinkovic-Savic and Correa crowned the club with their seventh Coppa Italia win.
The last threshold for the club to cross is getting Champions League football, and should they retain their manager, keep hold of their key players and add a few pieces to the playing squad, there is no reason why they can't push even harder for the top four next year.
The Coach: Simone Inzaghi
Inzaghi has done fantastically well in his three years in charge. He has stabilised the club, has the team playing an entertaining, but controlled game and won two trophies along the way, as well as qualifying for Europe every year. It’s no wonder he is now being courted by bigger clubs.
Player of the Year: Joaquin Correa
The Argentine arrived at Lazio with not much fanfare, but slowly became an integral part of the team. The 24-year-old has provided key goals, including in the semi-final and final of the Coppa Italia, assists and moments of unpredictability. When Tucu starts running at defenders, he’s very difficult to stop.
Highlight: Coppa Italia Victory
The Biancocelesti's seventh triumph in the competition brought them level with Inter, just behind Juventus and Roma. They had to do it the hard way, beating both Inter and Milan away from home in successive rounds, and defeating eventual Champions League qualifiers Atalanta in the Final.
Nightmare: Shameful ultras
The worst moment of the Biancocelesti's season was without doubt the racist abuse that a section of their fans hurled at players. In particular, their constant stream of ignorant bile towards Milan's Tiemoue Bakayoko and Franck Kessie, followed by rioting against police in the build-up to the Coppa Italia Final.
Did You Know ?
- Ciro Immobile is the third Lazio player to score at least 15 goals in the league in three consecutive seasons, after Silvio Piola and Giuseppe Signori.
- The Biancocelesti have featured in four of the last seven Coppa Italia Finals, winning twice.
- Lazio conceded only two goals in the opening 15 minutes, fewer than any other Serie A side this season.