S.S. Lazio: Where Eagles Dare
January 3, 2011 2 Comments
An eagle is released and soars around the Stadio Olympico, swooping through the clear Roman sky, roared on by thousands of fans before majestically flying back to its trainers arms. It is a bizarre and controversial scene, but then again Lazio are no strangers to controversy. The stir the eagle has created amongst animal rights groups is nothing compared to past controversies, a long list including Nazi salutes by players, racist banners and support for Serbian war criminals. Many of these were the acts of a minority group of extreme right-wing ultras but it nevertheless tarnishes the club’s image.
While mired in controversy the club is also steeped in history, being the first club established in Rome in 1900 (they often brag to rivals Roma that Lazio brought football to Rome). In those 110 years however they have only won two Scudetto’s, the most recent of which was in 2000. The current side are looking to build on that and honour this clubs fiery and dramatic past.
Lazio went into the Serie A winter break just three points off leaders Milan, level on points with the other surprise package this year Napoli. After a disappointing season last year, finishing twelfth after flirting with relegation, it is a remarkable turnaround. Under the astute management of veteran Edy Reja the Biancocelesti seem to be finding a potent balance between defensive solidity and attacking flair. The defence isn’t very strong on paper but Reja has them well drilled and Lazio have only conceded 16 league goals. In attack the Aquile have developed something of a fantastic four. Mauro Zarate, while slightly inconsistent, is capable of brilliance best shown in the 3-1 victory over Inter, where he scored twice and linked excellently with Hernanes. Two ageing Italians, attacking midfielder Mauri and striker Floccari, are in the form of their lives playing some exquisite football and providing an invaluable source of creativity and goals. The star, however, is undoubtedly the trequartista Hernanes. The brilliant Brazilian has been in devastating form, scoring 5 times and grabbing 4 assists. With the excellent Christian Ledesma in midfield and strength in depth with Mark Bresciano, Tomas Rocchi and Pasquale Foggia, this Lazio squad is the best at the club for many years.
What has changed since last seasons poor finish? The introduction of Hernanes has been key, offering a link between defence and attack that was sorely missing. A key change has also been made in formation. Reja has dropped his beloved 3-5-2 for for 4-2-3-1 and is reaping the rewards. The four man defence gives the team much more solidity, especially against teams that play with one striker, and enables Lazio to play more directly when required. As noted by Zonal Marking in this post, the lopsided nature of Lazio’s formation is not unlike Brazil’s at the World Cup. While 4-2-3-1 suits them best, Lazio’s ability to play 4-3-1-2 and 3-5-2 could give Reja extra tactical options if needed in games.
Can the current side win it? Serie A is certainly much more competitive than previous years but only time will tell. To draw inspiration they need look no further than the incredible story of the clubs last Scudetto win back in 2000. Back then the circumstances were very different, bankrolled by Sergio Cragnotti and managed by Sven-Goran Ericksson they assembled an expensive side. They had the defensive steel of Alessandro Nesta, the midfield vision of Dejan Stankovic, Pavel Nedved and Juan Veron, as well as the attacking prowess of Marcelo Salas and Simeone Inzaghi. Add to that the incredible set piece ability of Siniša Mihajlović and you had an impressive outfit. However Lazio were still regarded as outsiders compared with the giants of Juventus and Milan, much like todays hopefuls.
Also like the current season the title race was open and competitive and it entered the last two games with Lazio and Juve neck and neck. In the penultimate game controversy struck (not caused by Lazio for a change). Alessandro Del Piero gave Juventus a 1-0 lead at home to Parma but, sensationally, Fabio Cannavaro equalised in injury time. Jubilant Lazio fans were contemplating heading into the final game of the season on level points with Juventus when referee Massimo De Santis (later involved in the match-fixing scandal) controversially disallowed the goal for a phantom push in the penalty area. There was an outcry all over Italy, with accusations of corruption and conspiracy made against Juventus and the referee. Lazio now needed to beat Reggina and hope for an unlikely Perugia win over Juve. With the world apparently against them the Biancocelesti came out fighting, playing well and winning 3-0. From then on the tide seemed to turn, almost literally. There was an almighty downpour in Perugia creating atrocious conditions, as if God himself was routing for the Aquile. Despite everyone expecting Perugia to roll over they fought hard and even though Juventus had a team including Zinedine Zidane and Del Piero, they could not break them down. Then Perugia struck in the 50th minute and held out, giving Lazio their second Scudetto.
While it is unlikely it will happen in such incredible, dramatic style this season, Lazio do have a chance of once again winning the Scudetto. In the decade since their last one the club have seen it all: amazing success winning the double in 2000, despair when forced to sell club idol Alessandro Nesta and other star names at the end of the Cragnotti era leading to a rapid decline in results, controversy as they were embroiled in the Calciopoli (match fixing scandal) and round full circle to success, winning the Coppa Italia in 2009 and now challenging for the Scudetto.
Dating back to the iconic Georgio Chinaglia the club has always been controversial, proud and passionate. Rarely is there a dull moment at Lazio and two Scudetto’s in 110 years doesn’t do this enthralling club justice. Perhaps the talented current crop can right that wrong. If they can draw inspiration from the clubs passionate fans and turbulent history, then nothing will stop the Aquile flying high once more.
by Ryan Murphy