Back from the coldBy: Pepe | January 4th, 2011
With the short winter break almost over it is time to recap what little real news occurred over the last couple of weeks and to pontificate over what the second half of the season holds for us laziale.
Hernanes has claimed 2nd place in the Brazilian Samba d’Oro 2010 awards for the best Brazilian footballers playing in Europe – Maicon (Internazionale) came in first and Thiago Silva (AC Milan) in third. When you consider that Hernanes has only been in Europe since the summer, has been understandably tired and didn’t feature for the Seleção at the World Cup, this is quite an achievement. On second thoughts, missing the WC might have helped him back home, who knows?
Riccardo Perpetuini has left us for the south-east and Zeman’s spiritual home of Foggia. Let’s wish the kid all the best as I think the old maestro could use a passer of the ball like our Riccardo. It’s not official yet but he is already training with the Lega Pro side and has spoken to the press of his determination to do well, in bocca al lupo Ricca’.
So where does all this leave Lazio? Well, exactly where we were two weeks ago, there have not been any additions to the squad yet and as sad as I am to see Perpetuini leave us, it’s not like he was an integral squad member. Thus we shall imagine for a moment that our squad will remain unchanged for the month of January and we shall dream of what can be accomplished.
WHO ARE WE?
We are Lazio and we are challenging for the top spots in Italy. To finish outside of the Champions League places now would be more than bitterly disappointing and quite frankly I would be rather peeved at anything lower than third. That is not to dismiss the qualities of our rivals but acknowledge our own qualities. I remember this point last year telling people that Lichtsteiner was a steam train that never run out of coal, that Radu has the potential to be one of Europe’s great defenders, that Ledesma, despite not playing, was a metronome of superior quality and that Muslera was the finest keeper under the age of 25 in the game. But who would have believed me then? We are now January 2011.
Fernando Muslera showed everybody at the World Cup his qualities (and failings) and to be honest he has not been up to par this season, which truly is a testament to the qualities of our new centre-back pairing. We now have Biava and Dias anchoring the back line giving us the 4th tightest defence in the league, which is a wonderful change from last season. I can remember off the top of my head individual errors from Cavanda and Muslera and without those we would be even better but if there’s one thing you can guarantee from young footballers it is occasional inconsistency.
Lichti has had the season we expected from him – and more. He gave us the running we have grown accustomed to, hence his nickname ‘Forrest Gump’, but he has grown in terms of defensive solidity and attacking prowess. I think we may owe a small debt of gratitude to Ottmar Hitzfeld for the former as our boy is also a mainstay of the Swiss national team these days too.
Radu has confirmed everything we thought about the boy and more. I don’t remember him playing his favoured centre-back role once all season yet he has been as steady as a rock and has the nous and confidence to make up for the things he lacks to be a truly great full-back. He’s not fast so he must use superior positioning to stay strong. He’s not left-footed either but I very rarely see that affect his game. I do sometimes wonder what we would look like a natural left-back but I fully understand Reja for not changing a winning formula. Let’s just hope that he stays long enough to replace Biava in the future as I can assure it’s not just the Lazio faithful who know about Radu’s qualities, Chelsea and Barcelona are just two teams regularly linked to him.
Ledesma – the conundrum. What to do eh? Until mid-November I thought we had our own Xavi-lite in the middle of the park. Of course, let’s not exaggerate, he is not Xavi but damn he can keep the ball well and he doesn’t shirk a tackle either. But something has happened. Whether it is a contract issue, an understandable unease in relations with the boardroom or a simple loss of form, Ledesma has been off the pace at the same time that Matuzalém has rediscovered his. I personally would love to keep the guy as I think the competition they provide each other is exactly what a squad dreaming of high places needs.
WHERE ARE WE?
The rest of the team tells different stories, this time last year Biava, Dias & Floccari were all new arrivals and therefore unknown quantities, and boy have they all come good. Reja came in February and immediately revitalised Mauri, if not yet the whole team. So now we have an almost watertight defence, a top quality midfield and attack partnership, when the first team is on the pitch. Oh, and who could forget the prophet who links these two things together with a little samba? Not to take any credit away from the other players of course, and one could also argue that so far Mauri has been better than Hernanes, but I think the act of purchasing a big-name player reminded the team that this is Lazio, this is a big team and we should all be doing a damn sight better.
Where are we? Joint second, three points off top spot (Napoli are one goal better than us in goal difference) and with the potential to fight all the way to the finish line as long as we a) don’t get an injury curse or b) solidify the squad enough in this window. Maybe I trust our boys too much but I don’t think we need a new striker unless he’s happy to be third choice.
WHAT ARE WE UP AGAINST?
Here comes the hard part, we will have a LOT of competition for any prize worth having this year. First things first – the Scudetto. IF we are to win this (and it is an if, albeit a small one) then obviously AC Milan are the prime opponents. And off the bat, they’re marginally stronger than us all over the park, except in attack where they are considerably stronger than us (he’s called Zlatan in case you were wondering). But there are a couple of things to cling on to; we know how much affection AC holds for the ECL and if they beat the Spurs then they may switch their priorities to that competition. This however is not a guarantee as they haven’t won the league since 2004. The other possibility is that old boys like Nesta, Ambrosini, Gattuso, Abbiati and Seedorf might begin to creak or tire. Lastly, there are a lot of combustible characters in their changing room and we all know what to do when you have a potential firecracker of a dressing room – throw Cassano into the mix. So we’ll see.
More realistically I think our rivals will be Napoli, Juventus, Palermo and sadly, but inevitably, Rioma.
Briefly, I think we’ll go toe to toe with our Parthenopean rivals until the end, Cavani and Lavezzi are rampant this season and will probably continue to paper over their few, if significant, cracks. The UEFA Cup is going to take it out of them though as they are desperate to make an impression on Europe as pride and la bella figura are very important things to the Neapolitans. If they keep winning games in the 90th to 97th minutes though, they’ll soon tire.
Juventus are Juventus. They will always cast their ominous black and white shadow over the league and their squad is certainly stronger and deeper than ours. However I think our first 11 is the stronger of the two, although that may well change when Buffon is back, which will be very soon, but they’ll still be rancid at full back, and Bonucci is still raw. Underestimate them at your peril though. Even with that guy in charge…
Palermo have some wonderful talents in the likes of Miccoli, Pastore and Iličič but whether they’re strong enough to go the distance is something we’ll have to see. It certainly cannot help Delio Rossi having that blowhard Zamparini blaring in his ear all season long.
Now before you think I’ve gone crazy, I haven’t written off Internazionale but I’m reserving any comment on them until I’ve seen what Leonardo has in store for us.
To end this segment on a sour note, we have to mention the resurgence of the 2nd team of the capital. Atletico Roma Football Club are soaring up the Lega Pro Prima Divisione – Girone B and have a tough match down south in Taranto, but not to worry they’re in full fighting form having recently knocked local rivals A.S. Rioma off their perch with a thrilling 3-2 victory. Highlights right here:
THE FIRST STEP – GENOA
Thursday the 6th January, at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris we’ll see if the turkey, wine and zampone have had a good or bad effect on our boys. According to our brothers at La Lazio siamo noi we’ll be playing, surprise surprise, a 4-2-3-1 consisting of:
LICHTSTEINER, BIAVA, DIAS, RADU
ZARATE, HERNANES, MAURI
There are some side stories to this game; Floccari will be desperate to score considering how quickly he was discarded by Genoa and of course we’ll be seeing Ballardini again. Our opponents are still worried by the injury problems which have hampered their season and they have been seriously weakened by the loss of Ranocchia to Inter this week so this is a match where we should in theory be punishing them. However sooner or later all of their glamorous signings have to gel so we must be vigilant that it doesn’t happen tomorrow. I’m going to arrogantly predict a comfortable win for our boys, to remind everyone that we are in this race for the return leg as well.
Genoa Cricket and Football Club vs. S.S. Lazio
Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris
Thursday 6th January 2011
Some Related Lazio Posts:
Read the rest of the comments