It’s Not All Bad
Lazio supporters had been looking forward to the Juventus match all week long. Coming off a dominant win against Inter, Lazio were riding high. Never mind that Juventus were also in form, and that the game was to be played in Torino, there was tremendous confidence that Lazio could come away with a good result.
As we all know by now, that didn’t exactly happen. With a draw, and a point, securely in hand, Lazio gave the match away in the final seconds. A tough pill to swallow for the coach, the team and the fans, but an extremely valuable experience for all. Talking about Lazio’s limitations, or areas where they needed improvement, was somewhat difficult in the past as the team was playing so well. The loss to Juventus has made this process of introspection a lot easier to do now. Lazio’s weaknesses were fairly clear for all to see, and strangely enough the match may have been exactly what the club needed to move forward. But first a brief recap of the game itself…
Before Lazio could even build up to full match pace, there were already down by a goal. A corner kick and strong header by Chiellini were all it took to put the Reja’s team on the back foot from the start. For some teams, and early blow like this in Torino would be enough to affect the rest of the match going forward, but Lazio are not that kind of team; their response was swift and clear. After a few dangerous attacks, a corner kick and scramble in the box was enough for Zarate to equalize and start things all over again. Now the match could go forward as planned.
And it was clear that Reja’s plan was not to play in fear of Juventus. Whereas Lazio had adopted very conservative tactics in their more difficult away matches early in the season (in Bari and Palermo), this time they were going to try and play freely against one of the strongest teams in the league. This was an important sign of the team’s current confidence and mentality, a sign that they truly believe they can play with anyone, anywhere.
This strategy is not without its risks, however. Prior to the match there had been plenty of discussion about Krasic, and what Lazio should do to contain him. He is catalyst for Juventus’ offense, and Reja’s choice of countermeasure was Cavanda. One of Lazio’s brightest young prospect, he has seen very little playing time this season, outside of a solid performance against Milan. With Radu out of the lineup, the idea was fairly straight forward: use Cavanda’s speed to counter Krasic’s. The result wasn’t exactly what Reja had hoped for. Krasic beat Cavanda several times early on, before the Lazio player began to settle in and get the measure of his opponent. Slightly better balance after the half hour mark, the battle was destined to continue all night.
Despite statistics showing near equal ball possession, the feeling was that Juventus were having the run of play. Lazio were doing fairly well, but they were clearly suffering from Juventus’ size and strength. The elegant ball control and passing that the midfield had displayed in past matches simply was not consistently there, and there was a lot of space between Lazio’s attacking players. This created several instances where they were attacking alone against two or more defenders, and giants on Juve’s back line were proving hard to beat.
It also doesn’t help that Juventus enjoys an astounding level of protection from Italian referees. Where a clean sliding tackle from Matuzalem is whistled in the first half, a poor imitation from Melo, taking Floccari out from behind with both legs, is ignored. The lack of quickness that larger players usually struggle with is not an issue for Juventus, as the referee allows them to play with a physicality that negates this problem entirely.
With time winding down in the second half, Lazio eventually began to shift to a more defensive orientation. Their attacks weren’t proving especially dangerous, and so a draw began to look appealing. Mauri, who had looked slow and ineffective all night, was replaced by Ledesma, and finally Zarate was subbed in favor of Del Nero. By this point Juventus clearly had the initiative, but Lazio was holding its own. Almost.
Just when it appeared that Cavanda had finally gotten the measure of Krasic, so much so that the Juventus player briefly moved to the opposite side of the field, it all unraveled in the last ten minutes. Suddenly he was getting behind Lazio’s left back with ease, creating opportunities for Juve where Del Piero, Pepe, Iaquinta, Aquilani (and earlier Quagliarella) could not. After drawing a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, which Muslera brilliantly saved, a through ball with 15 seconds remaining in the game was enough for Krasic to ruin 90 minutes of hard work for Lazio.
Young Cavanda should not lose heart; overall he played fairly well. Offensively he is extremely talented for a fullback, but defensively he displayed some technical weaknesses. Often playing his weekend matches with the Primavera, he has clearly been allowing his raw speed to compensate for smart defensive positioning and marking. He can be a top level player in Serie A, but he still has some work to do.
As far as the rest of the team is concerned, the defeat helps bring many things into perspective. Previously the overriding opinion had been to keep the starting 11 unchanged, as they had been controlling their opponents all season long. This was the first time they had been dominated overall, and it makes the idea of bringing in some reinforcements much more palatable.
Lazio are right there on skill. In a game that is fast moving and wide open, like the match was against Inter, like a match might be in the Premier League, La Liga, or European play, Lazio can play with the top teams in the world. But when faced with might tighter and more physical defensive play, the kind of play that Serie A is characterized by (especially in the winter months), Lazio are bound to struggle a lot more. So the defeat isn’t all bad; if the team and the club learn a lesson from it, they will come out stronger in the long run.