It was bound to happen sooner or later. Lazio has been playing well this season, and they are vastly improved compared to last year, but they were bound to run into a team that simply dominated them. There will be plenty of games during a season when a team simply doesn’t play well, or shows up for the game with the wrong mentality, but that wasn’t the case in Milan on Tuesday night. Lazio actually did put in a respectable performance, but they were simply up against a better team.
The good news is that this is the first, and hopefully the last, time it has happened this season. Lazio has played some bad games, and lost to some inferior opponents (Roma twice), but they had never been completely dominated. Milan did just that, so Lazio managing a scoreless draw can be considered a good result. In light of last night’s matches, were most of the teams in the top of the standings stumbled, it looks even better.
There is no need to break this game down into two halves, as there really wasn’t much to talk about. As mentioned, Milan essentially dominated the run of play, especially in the second half. Lazio was playing without Zarate, Floccari and Rocchi, with Mauri left on the bench (reports said he was ill with a fever, but Reja might not have started him anyway), so the prospects were grim form the get go. Sculli and Kozac showed they can hold their own against an average side (Fiorentina), but Milan plays at another level. Making matters worse for them, they received little help from the midfield. Brocchi, Ledesma and Gonzalez were very defensive minded, likely at Reja’s insistence, and that left Hernanes to do everything by himself when Lazio had possession in the midfield.
Needless to say, Lazio couldn’t create much. After looking solid in the first few minutes, the attack soon resorted to repeated long balls to Kozac. Generally not a bad strategy, as Kozac is quite good in the air, but left along against the Milan defense he was getting pushed around. Yepes seems physically unable to challenge for a ball cleanly, while a blatant elbow from Thiago Silva didn’t even get a call (forget about the yellow card it deserved, one of two for Silva). Normally this wouldn’t be much of an issue, but an alarming media campaign has sprouted up in the past few days, with the sole intent of demonizing Kozac.
TV, internet and newspaper headlines all mindless spouted, “Kozac sends half of Milan’s defense to the hospital.” On the evening calico talk shows, you had accusations of Kozac intentionally injuring players, and warnings that he “needed to calm down.” To call it ridiculous would be an understatement. It was an all out smear campaign, largely orchestrated by a Milan club that has employed goonish players for years (Gatuso, Antonini, new signing Van Bommel). Somehow it is unacceptable if a young kid from Lazio tries to stand up for himself amongst repeated attacks from Yepes and Silva. But alas this is Lazio, the least respected team in the league.
Oh, and Ibrah hit both posts before the ball rebounded to Muslera. Some small redemption for the Di Viao goal. Milan did a few other chances, but none of them were really “clean”, generally coming from balls rebounding off the defenders. And there lies the other positive aspect of the match: the defense played quite well. Dias had a strong comeback performance, and he and Biava kept Milan from scoring, which is never easy. Radu also played a great match, and is starting to look fully recovered from his knee surgery.
Not much left to say at this point. As mentioned above, most of the teams near Lazio in the standings also struggled in their matches. After criticism from Roma and Napoli supporters abut Lazio playing an “ugly” match in Milan, Roma proceeded to draw with Brescia at home, while Napoli was thumped by Chievo in Verona. Juve was also humiliated again by Palermo, while Udinese only managed a draw. So while Lazio might not have done much in the January transfer window, the current squad can still finish the season well considering the inconsistency of the competition.