Mina Rzouki investigates where it has gone so horribly wrong for Lazio this season.
In August, the Serie A season hadn’t even kicked off, but many critics and footballing analysts had already predicted the demise of Lazio, a side that had overachieved last season. Under the guidance of a superb Stefano Pioli, a man deeply respected by his peers, the Biancocelesti had reached the Coppa Italia final and finished in third place in Serie A, allowing them the opportunity to qualify for the Champions League.
Pioli finally demonstrated what many thought he was capable of – creating extraordinary teams. While Lazio were never quite a side that boasted remarkable individual ability, he united a fractioned team, transformed them from a practical side into a winning one, and dazzled onlookers with the team’s courageous tactics.
Collecting fewer draws than any other Serie A side, the Roman outfit refused to ever settle for a point, making it their mission to always go for the win, even if it resulted in misfortune. A brave team that rid itself of all fears, Pioli was a progressive coach who refused to abide by Italy’s love of caution.
The coach realised early on that his tactical ideals would only be realised if the players sacrificed for one another and worked as a unit. As such, players were encouraged to spend their spare time together, to dine together, and to confront their problems together. Tightening friendship bonds, Pioli created the ideal unit and the perfect atmosphere for success.
However, all good things come to an end, and sadly for Lazio, their downfall was almost predictable. Spending virtually nothing in last summer’s transfer market, a team tasked with defeating Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League play-offs remained unchanged and was asked to overachieve yet again.
The Aquile are a side presided over by a fiscally cautious Claudio Lotito, a man hated by the fans, but one who ensured the club’s financial security by counting pennies and eventually selling the talent they did possess. While his decisions always made financial sense, the progression made by Pioli ought to have been rewarded by the purchases of fresh new talent to continue the project. Instead, the team spent a miserly €20m on players not deemed good enough to start.
As such, tactical evolution was no longer a realistic objective, while the team unit that worked so well began to collapse over a decision that should never have been made.
In a bid to keep Lucas Biglia, the visionary midfielder admired by the likes of Real Madrid, Lazio opted to make him the captain of the team in lieu of fan favourite – and the man who drove the team forward with his brilliant attacking play – Antonio Candreva. This decision caused great unhappiness and eventually led to a dressing room rift, with the latter all but certain to leave at the end of this season.
With the team suffering from pre-season mediocrity, barely managing to score any goals and losing to Juventus yet again, this time in the Supercoppa, Pioli desperately needed his leaders to step up and help him recover harmony. Instead, he stood alone, faced with the daunting task of mending broken relationships and reenergising a team that had exceeded all expectations last season. It was a challenge that ultimately proved too difficult.
The Biancocelesti lost out on Champions League participation and their form remained inconsistent throughout the season, suffering too many injuries to count. While Lotito insisted that he held no doubts over the position of their coach in early December, a loss to Roma in the Derby last week resulted in Pioli’s dismissal.
Made a scapegoat by his colleagues tasked to support him, Pioli certainly made mistakes, but few believe he deserved such an exit. In his place arrives Simone Inzaghi, Filippo Inzaghi’s younger brother, and the man who has long held the dream of managing the senior squad, having excelled with the Under-20 side.
Securing an immediate win, Lazio defeated Palermo 3-0 on Sunday to climb up the table. It seemed Inzaghi managed what Pioli couldn’t – motivating a fragile unit. Marco Parolo was back to his best, Miroslav Klose was scoring with ease, while Candreva was running with determination yet again; could Inzaghi be the right man?
Sadly, Lazio has a habit of swallowing up and chewing out good coaches, from Vladimir Petković to Stefano Pioli; will the club do enough to support whomever will lead them next season?
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