It's a Knockaert

The ramblings of a football obsessive and Game of Thrones nerd.

Stopping the rot at Lazio

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After the euphoria of winning what was dubbed ‘the biggest Rome derby of all time’ last May, Lazio seemed like a club on the rise. Fast forward to this season and this trend has completely reversed, as the Super Eagles sit an unthinkable 12th in the table, with a measly 4 wins from 15 games, none away from home, 6 draws and only 19 goals scored. Pressure is increasing on coach Vladimir Petkovic, but the successes of last season will hopefully buy him some more time. Here I’ll have a look at Lazio’s problems, and possible solutions.

Weaknesses in defence and attack

While the midfield is relatively strong, there is a noticeable lack of quality in Lazio’s defence and attack. Of their centre backs, only Lorik Cana has shown anything decent this season. Giuseppe Biava and Andre Dias are both getting old, and the latter has made some horrendous mistakes this season. Michael Ciani is decent, but nothing special, while Diego Novaretti hasn’t had enough game time to adapt from the Mexican League to Serie A. Meanwhile in attack, which I believe is the team’s main problem as they simply don’t score enough goals, Miroslav Klose is struggling to shoulder the burden placed on him. The legendary German is 35 now, and has only 2 goals in 9 league games this season. He is expected to leave at the end of the season, possibly for the MLS or his first club Kaiserslautern. The reserve strikers, Sergio Floccari and Brayan Perea have only 1 goal between them, although 18-year-old Balde Keita has shown some good promise and is one to keep an eye on. Many strikers were scouted over the summer, and on deadline day it seemed that the prolific Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz would be arriving, but it surprisingly fell through at the last minute due to agent demands. I wonder if Chairman Claudio Lotito is regretting that he was not the man to take a gamble on Giuseppe Rossi…

The Hernanes Problem

Hernanes is Lazio’s best player on his best day, a regular in Brazil’s squads with a lethal long shot and excellent free kick ability. He was at his very best last season, scoring 11 league goals from centre midfield, many of them spectacular efforts. This unsurprisingly led to interest in his services over the summer, mainly from PSG but also from Atletico Madrid, Arsenal and Spurs. It seems certain that he has had his head turned, as he has been well below par this season, with only 2 league goals so far. His contract expires in the summer of 2015, and it seems ever more likely that he will depart either this January or then. This may not be such a bad thing, as he would bring in a transfer fee of £15-20 million which could be spent on a quality striker or defender, or both, and Lazio have good depth in centre midfield. The youngsters Ogenyi Onazi and Felipe Anderson have the quality to step up and replace him.

Mauri: MIA

Lazio’s captain Stefano Mauri will miss the entire season after being banned for 9 months for his role in a match fixing scandal. Mauri scored several vital goals last season, and as captain he surely played a big role in motivating the players. His absence is a big reason for their slump, I’m sure.

Roma’s Brilliance

Deadly rivals Roma could not be having a more different season to Lazio, sitting second in the table and still unbeaten. After being unbeaten in their last 5 games against their rivals, winning 4 of those games, Lazio lost 2-0 to Roma in week 4 of the season. This result, and then seeing them flying at the top of the table for so long, is bound to have had an effect on morale.

The Doctor’s Future

Manager Petkovic seems to be very popular amongst the squad – Hernanes posted a message of support for him on Facebook amid the recent speculation over his future. His contract is up at the end of the season, and he has been linked with taking over the Switzerland national team when their manager leaves after the world cup. I very much hope Petkovic stays, and is given a new contract as he seems a very capable manager, and I don’t think he deserves as much blame as he is getting – he didn’t get the squad reinforcements he needed in the summer, which is the chairman’s fault.

Europe – A Saving Grace

Despite the league troubles, Lazio have put in a good showing in the Europa League, qualifying in second place from a group containing Trabzonspor, Legia Warsaw and Apollon Limassol. They reached the quarter finals last season, and could have gone further but for a poor refereeing performance in the second leg against Fenerbahce. If the league form continues to be poor, Petkovic may focus on this competition, as reaching the semi finals or even the final could mean the season is still viewed as a success. However with the calibre of teams in the Europa League this season – Juventus, Napoli, Fiorentina, Spurs, Porto, Shakhtar – I don’t hold out much hope of reaching the later rounds.

So what is the answer?

Stick with Petkovic – the players love him and he’s a good manager. Cash in on Hernanes if he continues to appear demotivated in January, and invest the money in a quality striker. There aren’t many available at the moment, but managing director Igli Tare has a record of finding hidden gems in Europe’s smaller leagues, such as Kolarov, Lichtsteiner and Lulic. A quality centre back wouldn’t go amiss as well, or move Stefan Radu back to centre back and find a left back. Do these things, and maybe Lazio will have a much better second half of the season.

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