A New Low
The statements following Lazio’s Coppa Italia loss were all fairly positive. Lazio had played very well. In fact, they thoroughly dominated their cross-town nephews and gave them a lesson on how to play good football. In turn Lazio learned that they must improve their ability to cross the ball into opposing player’s hands (and maybe Lichtsteiner learned to keep his down) , to capitalize on opponent’s mistakes, and to finish the chances they are given. Five minutes into the match against Bologna, it certainly looked as if they had learned the latter lesson, but things quickly fell apart, with the match becoming a complete and utter debacle for Lazio.
As already mentioned, things got off to a flying start for Lazio. A lovely give and go between Floccari and Hernanes left Sergio all alone in front of the keeper. Suffering from something of a dry spell lately, Floccari showed incredible poise and promptly buried the ball in the side netting. Lazio supporters could not have asked for more, but they almost got it. After an excellent save from Muslera on a Di Vaio breakaway, Floccari nearly doubled up with a brilliant header, only to have Bologna keeper Viviano make the first of a few brilliant saves.
At that point things started to become more difficult for Lazio, as they struggled to maintain any sort of possession in midfield. When Ramirez did well to beat Muslera from a well played through ball, there was hope it would finally wake Lazio up. Unfortunately there seems to be no way of waking up Stefano Mauri these days, as his lazy pass to Radu sparked a counter attack that resulted in Di Vaio beating Muslera to the near post from close range. The first half would end on an even more sour note when Zarate, subbed in for an injured Sculli, missed yet another easy goal scoring chance (this one possibly worse than in in the Lecce match).
Hope for a triumphant Lazio comeback faded rather fast. The team failed to start the second half with any fighting spirit, and again they struggled to build play through the midfield. Zarate, perhaps still thinking about the missed chance, was nearly invisible, and only the insertion of Gonzalez for a lifeless Ledesma seemed to provide some spark. The Roman side had finally begun to create some decent chances when the wheels fell off completely.
All year long Lazio has suffered from the cheeky play and mid games used by their opponents, and this afternoon was worse than ever. While Hernanes was systematically fouled each and every time he touched the ball, Bologna managed to turn a hard (and somewhat dirty) tackle from Dias into a the occasion that ended the match. The incident should have concluded with Dias being given a deserved yellow card, but instead resulted in him being thrown out of the match (with a probably 2 game ban to follow), when a Bologna bench player was allowed to enter the field and essentially provoke a fight. By now Lazio supporters are used to being shafted by Italian officials, but this incredibly episode was so farcical that the completely outrageous decision to add only four minutes of injury time (the skirmish, which, again, was provoked by a player from Bologna’s bench entering the field, took 4 minutes by itself) was barely noticed. Oh, and Di Vaio added a third.
As if it weren’t already enough of a joke, after the final whistle the Bologna players were allowed to gang up on Zarate and provoke even more trouble. Replays showed what looked like Zarate throwing a punch, and Bologna’s coach had the nerve (and complete lack of dignity and class) to accuse him of spitting at a Bologna player. Will Lotito do something about this? Will Lotito allow the entire league to walk all over Lazio with every chance they get?
But let’s not get distracted from the matter at hand; Lazio has played yet another awful match. While a late goal from Kozac was able to placate most fans a week ago, this time around there was no hiding the poor play. And there are several responsible parties, first among them being coach Reja. The excellent performance in the Derby shows that this team has great potential when they are motivated and prepared to play, and thus it showed that the team has not been in such a state of readiness for their last 3 or 4 league matches. Reja needs to do more than merely motivate the team though; he needs to put the right team on the field to begin with.
Starting at the back, the first name that jumps out is Scaloni. After a defeat like this, there is no room for playing nice and protecting people’s feelings, so let us just say it: there is no reason for Scaloni to put on a Lazio jersey ever again. He has the talent and physical tools to be a solid player, but he simply doesn’t have the head for it. He invariably makes a mess of things and winds up being little more than dead weight. If there really were no alternative, perhaps you could understand Reja turning to him in desperation, but Cavanda is perfectly healthy and perfectly ready to play. Cavanda is a good young player, raised in the Lazio system, and has look quite good in his matches with the first team thus far. Sure, he struggled with Krasic, but giving a talented prospect a chance to develop is easily preferable to putting Scaloni out there.
Some of the regular staring eleven deserve some scrutiny as well. As mentioned above, it was Mauri’s lazy pass that got Bologna going on their second goal (helped out by the aforementioned Scaloni walking back as Di Vaio was going to goal). Stefano has essentially been invisible lately, and when he has made the occasional appearance, it has only been to make a mess of things. He needs to wake up, and wake up fast. His midfield colleague Ledesma was equally dreadful yesterday, and played poorly against Lecce as well. The arrival of Hernanes, along with the emergence of Matuzalem, has exposed the fact that Ledesma makes much more of a contribution defensively than he does offensively. After his amazing performance against Roma mid-week, where he seemed to arrive first to every loose ball in the midfield, there was hope he would have found his old form. Instead we saw another quiet game from him, which is simply unacceptable. Yes, Brocchi was terrible as well, but at least Brocchi continued to hustle. Ledesma is another player that needs to get his head right. Lastly, Radu needs his name mentioned as well. Stefan is a player not merely with the potential to be good, but the potential to be great. He is massively talented, but also prone to mistakes. Add him to the list of players whose problems reside in their heads, not their feet. Then give that list to Reja, and tell him to get to work.