Last Sunday’s Supercoppa Italiana marked the half way point of the Serie A season, with last years league winners Juventus facing Lazio, the current holders of the Coppa Italia.
After 17 rounds of scintillating football, the Serie A season comes to a halt as we enter the winter break. There was plenty of anticipation at the start of the season, with new coaches at Juventus, Inter Milan, Roma and AC Milan respectively.
Despite a disappointing season by their standards in the 2018-2019 campaign, finishing 8th, Lazio stuck with their manager of four years, Simone Inzaghi.
Lifting the Coppa Italia last season was seen as a great achievement however, and probably went a long way in keeping Inzaghi in the job. With Lazio lifting their 7th Italian Cup title and for the first time since 2013 (ending Juventus’ four year winning streak), they ended their season on a high and without doubt looking to bounce back in the 2019-2020 season.
The biggest challenge, which has become a reoccurring theme for Lazio, was to keep their best players during the summer window. Once again, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was heavily linked with a move away, with Juventus and Manchester United after his signature. The likes of Ciro Immobile and Luis Alberto were also highly sought after but the Biancocelesti held firm and managed to keep all their star players once again.
Goals, Goals, Goals
A common saying within the footballing world is “the hardest thing to do is put the ball in the back of the net”. This is something Lazio know too well after last years distinctly average display in front of goal.
If Lazio were to have any success this season, they needed to rediscover their attacking prowess from the 2017-2018 season which saw them finish 5th (level with Inter but losing out on their head-to-head record) and scoring a league high 89 goals in the process. Immobile and his teammates struggled to find their best form last season, with Lazio registering a measly 56 goals in the 2018-2019 season.
Italian international Ciro Immobile was unstoppable two years ago, scoring an incredible 41 goals in 47 matches in all competitions. 29 of those goals came in the Serie A, and Immobile unsurprisingly won the Capocannoniere award (Serie A’s top goal scorer), his first since 2014 where he scored 22 with Torino. He did however, much like last years Premier League Golden Boot, have to share the award with Mauro Icardi who also registered 29 goals.
The goals dropped off for Immobile last season, he managed a modest 15 in 36 games in the league and 19 in all competitions. Ciro is without a doubt Lazio’s main source of goals, but it would be unfair to put their lack of goals solely down to him.
Luis Alberto, Lazio’s Spanish creator in midfield, also experienced a dip in form last season. In 27 Serie A matches, he contributed a steady return of 4 goals and 5 assists. However, compare that to his numbers from the season before and the difference is staggering. In 2017-2018, Luis Alberto provided 11 goals and 13 assists in 34 games, leading to his deserved inclusion in the Serie A team of the season.
By looking at those stats, it becomes apparent that the goals and assists of Ciro Immobile and Luis Alberto are vital in propelling S.S. Lazio up the table.
It comes as no surprise then, that with Lazio currently sitting 3rd in the table, with a game in hand on Inter and Juve, Immobile and Luis Alberto seem to have rediscovered their form of two years ago.
Immobile is favourite to win the Capocannoniere once again with a remarkable 17 goals in 16 league games! That’s an incredible goal every 76 minutes. The next best in the league by comparison is Inter Milan’s new star striker, Romelu Lukaku who has 12 goals to his name. However, Lukaku can can only boast a goal every 120 minutes. Immobile has also laid on 5 goals for his teammates, meaning he’s been directly involved in 22 goals in his 16 games this season, a phenomenal record thus far. Across Europe’s top leagues, only Robert Lewandowski (19) and Timo Werner (18) have scored more, although Immobile has played far fewer minutes!
If Immobile is Lazio’s finisher, then Luis Alberto is certainly their creator. The Spaniard is in fine form this season with 11 assists already in the Serie A, just two shy of his record from the 2017-2018 season! Alberto has also contributed with 3 goals and, much like Ciro Immobile, can boast a hugely impressive record for goal contributions, with 14 in 16 games. Remarkably, he is statistically the best creator across Europe’s five leagues this season. His tally of 11 is equal with Bayern’s Thomas Muller and one more than Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne!
Joaquin Correa has added a new dimension to this Lazio side. In his second season with the club now, he took some time to get settled but is now emerging as a key player in Inzaghi’s side. Correa is playing as a pseudo ‘second striker’ behind Immobile in Lazio’s 3-5-2 system, and mainly serves as the link player between the midfield and attack. He’s proved to be a tricky customer for Serie A defenders with his diminutive frame and agility, scoring 7 goals and providing 2 assists in all competitions so far.
Lazio have so far registered 38 goals in their 16 matches. Only Atalanta can better that, with 43 in 17 matches (5 of those goals came last time out as they dismantled a poor AC Milan side).
We cannot disregard the great defensive work that Lazio do as well. So far this season they have conceded exactly a goal a game, 16 in 16 matches. This doesn’t sound great, but when you put it into perspective, only Inter can better that with their 14 goals conceded. It’s a true testament to the work being done on the training ground by Simone Inzaghi and his staff, as the team appear to be well drilled at the back without compromising on goals scored.
Francesco Acerbi has been a hero at the centre of Lazio’s defence. A hero in more ways than one; Acerbi has twice overcome testicular cancer and is now a certainty to be a part of the Italy defence in the upcoming Euro 2020. A truly inspiring football story. As of the 29th November 2019, no opposition player has dribbled past him – making him the only player in Europe’s top 5 leagues to boast this record (of those who have made more than 18 appearances).
Lazio’s defensive structure, a 3-5-2 system that morphs into a 5-3-2 or 5-3-1-1 when defending, allows them to constrict the space in which the opponents can attack them. The wide central midfielders are happy to funnel out wide and support their wingback on that side should the opponent’s try to double up on them. And with the experienced Lucas Leiva sitting in front of the defence, Lazio have a disciplined anchor man who thrives off breaking up opposition attacks.
Leiva’s willingness to sit in his deep midfield position, allows the wingbacks for bomb forward with freedom as Lazio still have 4 men behind the ball. You can see from the below image, how Lazio have a 4-6 split when attacking:
This screenshot was taken from Lazio’s 3-1 home win over Juventus in the Serie A earlier in December. Their 2nd goal in the game came from this exact passage of play. Juventus are holding quite a high line, and Lazio have 5 attacking players occupying Juve’s back four.
Once the ball is played into Marco Parolo on the left, you can see the willingness of Sergej Milinković-Savić to run in behind:
In this scenario, Parolo (red circle), in possession, has two viable options. Pick out the more risky run of Milinković-Savić (yellow circle), or go wide to the right wing back Lazzari (blue circle) who is in acres of space. He goes for the riskier, more direct option:
The desire, and the athleticism of Milinković-Savić means he can get on the end of Parolo’s exceptional pass, and finish on his supposedly ‘weaker’ left foot, past the keeper.
We have attached the highlights from this match, which demonstrates Lazio’s more slightly more direct, counter attacking style. Many Serie A teams are leaning towards more possession based systems; Sarri’s Juve, Gasperini’s Atalanta for example. Lazio’s average possession of 50.7% is the lowest of the top 5 clubs in Italy, with Roma and Inter Milan also keeping more of the ball.
A Three Horse Race?
Lazio have now beaten Sarri’s Juventus twice in December, with a serious case of Deja Vu for the Turin side as they lost both games 3-1 and finished with 10 men on both occasions! The big question is then, can they keep this up?
Statistically speaking, they’re as good as, if not better than, the Lazio side of two seasons ago. Immobile and Alberto have found top gear again, and all the other pieces are falling into place. The arrival of Lucas Leiva and Francesco Acerbi in the summer of 2018 has sured them up defensively. Joaquin Correa, and the super sub Felipe Caicedo gives them something different, along with the athletic box to box presence of Milinković-Savić, Lazio have goals all over the pitch.
The stats show that it could be a great season for Lazio. With the 2nd best attack and defence in the league and the Supercoppa Italiana already in the bag, you’d be a brave man to bet against them to add to their trophy cabinet once again.
It is however, a results business. There will be off days for the likes of Immobile, so fringe players such as Caicedo, as he has done, must step up from the bench or when starting games to ensure Lazio have a ‘Plan B’.
There are very promising signs for Lazio though, as they have usually struggled to beat the so called ‘bigger sides’ in Italy. They are now proving that they can go head to head with the likes of Juve and Inter in what should be a thrilling title race in Italy. Defeating Juventus 3-1 in both the Serie A and Supercoppa will have given Lazio the belief that they actually belong at the top.
It may be a little premature, but the early signs suggest that Italian football and the Serie A itself, is making a real resurgence in recent years. It’s hard to argue against the Premier League being the best league in the world, but with Liverpool head and shoulders above the rest, you’d be forgiven for turning your attention to the Serie A during the latter stages of the season for what should be a nail biting finish!