“I’m waiting like everyone else. I have asked for a striker and a midfielder,” declared Edy Reja. It was mid-morning on Tuesday, and whilst preparations for the Lazio’s home match with Milan were in their final stages, the 65-year-old had, like the fans, one eye on his club’s transfer deadline day activity.
Where Djibril Cisse’s departure after just six months was expected, sporting director Igli Tare’s unsuccessful attempts to deliver one of Keisuke Honda or Nilmar was not. Having also missed out on Milos Krasic and by their own admission Fredy Guarin, focus going into Wednesday’s round of Serie A was still on the lack of options available to Reja’s Champions League qualification-chasing team.
Indeed, as reports during the day circled of both the Coach and Miroslav Klose arguing with Tare over the apparent last-minute nature of the club’s deadline day work, things were compounded as Klose pulled out of Milan’s visit through injury and Reja could only name one senior striker in the matchday squad, Tommaso Rocchi.
However, the subsequent 2-0 win over the Rossoneri provided short-term release and could prove most significant going forward. More so than the fact it was the club’s first three points against Il Diavolo in 14 years and 27 Serie A duels, was that it was achieved through goals from Hernanes and Rocchi and that each player was involved in the build-up for the other’s strike.
Both men have shown signs of the influence they can hold on the team in various flashes this term, but as Klose’s form has provided for comparison, it is consistency that they have lacked in 2011-12. The first 75 minutes of Week 21’s fixture perfectly demonstrated why the Curva Nord’s Ultras held pre-match protests against President Claudio Lotito. Their Aquile was solid and organised in defence but slow and ponderous in attack.
Whilst Lazio had only failed to score in two of their home matches this season and had recorded five clean sheets, Milan were expected to pick up at least a point. Perhaps they would even demonstrate as Juventus and Udinese had before – strong defending at the Olimpico and goals on the counter-attack. As Reja ominously spoke pre-match: “We do not sell dreams, only solid reality.”
Yet, Massimiliano Allegri’s men proved the more sterile and as Rocchi’s dummy for Hernanes on 76 and Hernanes’ work to find Senad Lulic to cut back to Rocchi nine minutes later, Le Aquile provided an answer for their fans that they were perhaps not expecting. As La Gazzetta dello Sport’s Stefano Cieri commented, Hernanes’ performance was reflective of the phrase, ‘to make a virtue of necessity’. I.e. willingly doing something that needed to be done. Whether he and Rocchi can continue to make virtue is a question that will return as soon as the weekend, with early reports suggesting that Klose may not make that fixture either.
Meanwhile, attention should also be drawn to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Whilst unfair to judge the situation after just 90 minutes of the month, it is worth noting that February is notoriously and statistically proven to be where he suffers a dip in form each season. Shooting from a free-kick from 45 yards out, a couple of mis-placed crosses in the final third, a complete air-shot and a late chance pulled wide are all early signs that the curse may have returned once more. As too was the mysterious award of a clear-cut penalty that Ibra was set to take, only for the referee to change his mind after discussion with his assistant.
No such concern for Diego Milito or Fabrizio Miccoli who traded blows in an extraordinary 4-4 draw between Inter and Palermo. Milito’s four-goal haul brings him up to just one League strike less than this stage of the season in 2009-10 – a title-winning campaign that saw him net 22 goals. Meanwhile, Miccoli’s hat-trick and assist mean he has been directly involved in 10 goals in the last three games alone, whilst curiously, in a similar statistic to Milito, Miccoli’s 19-goal haul in 2009-10 also saw him with six goals to his name by the start of February.
Elsewhere, four postponements across the midweek fixtures, coupled with the snow-covered San Siro pitch and the freezing temperatures Udinese beat Lecce 2-1 in, ensured that the midweek round will also be remembered for the games that didn’t happen as much as those that did. Club Presidents across the peninsula took the opportunity to once again publicly for the change in stadium building law to be pushed through the Italian legal system. As that threatens to drag on, suggestions such as permanent changes to the fixture calendar, dropping the winter break or a more flexible FIGC that would allow for last-minute changes of kick-off times are all points of debate triggered by the eventful, if game light, Week 21.
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