For the first time since Lazio’s string of good results early in the season, the team performed as expected against a weaker opponent and everything went well. Despite a less than impressive record on the road, the match against Brescia was one which Lazio was fully expected to win. Brescia are inferior to Lazio in every position on the field, and while some of the smaller teams feature a dangerous player or two (Maxi Lopez for Catania, Di Vaio for Bologna, Amauri and Giovincu for Parma), a solid defense should be able to contain Eder and Caracciolo for 90 minutes. And that is exactly what Lazio managed to do.
Lazio started the match with the usual defense (Scaloni in for Radu), Ledesma and Matuzalem in center midfield, Gonzalez on the right, Sculli on the left, and Hernanes playing between the midfield and target man Kozac. It was an interesting lineup, and proved to be quite effective throughout the match. Matuzalem and Ledesma work very well together, with the former showing no drop in form since returning from injury. Quite the contrary, Matuzalem has proven once again that he is a very high quality player, and having him in the midfield really helps take some of the burden off Ledesma and Hernanes. Sculli was given more defensive responsibility than usual, but he responded brilliantly, showing the sort of character and work ethic that is so essential to this team’s success.
Speaking of work ethic, it was fantastic to see Gonzalez back in the starting eleven. Yes he scored a great goal, and nearly had a second, but what’s most important is his attitude and approach to the game. He simply never stops running and never stops fighting for balls. As I have said before, his hustle seems to be contagious, and everyone around him seemed inspired by his effort. He and Lichtsteiner not only work well together, but both are young and dynamic players that can cause problems on the wing for any team in the world. We can only hope that Reja took note of this, and will leave those two together for matches to come. Gonzalez must remain in the starting lineup.
As for the play itself, Lazio was dominant until the point of the first goal, when they understandably suffered the slight lack of focus that often occurs when a team takes the lead. Brescia put together one or two dangerous attacks, but nothing overly threatening. The defense, and especially Dias, did a very good job to keep things under control, and Muslera had a very solid match as well. A slight scare came when Sculli beat Eder to a ball in Lazio’s penalty area, but replays showed that Eder clearly looked for contact and took a dive. Matter of fact, on several occasions the Brescia players simply showed no interest in the ball and looked for contact with the Lazio players, hoping to get a call. Pathetic.
Lazio made no substitutions at half time, and began to suffer again after the first few minutes passed. Brescia was using every trick and tactic in the book to poach a goal, and Lazio simply had a hard time dealing with it. This was the only point in the match when Lazio really seemed vulnerable, and it highlighted what is perhaps the team’s greatest weakness: they are too nice! Lazio play proper, sporting football. They try to win through the merit of their play, and they show little interest in fooling the referee or cheating slightly to score a goal. This is great, and they shouldn’t change this attitude, however they need to react better when their opponents do indeed resort to these kinds of tactics. They need to stand up for themselves and demonstrate their strength.
Lazio’s second goal came at the tail end of this difficult moment, and essentially ended the match. An excellent corner kick found Kozac at the far post, and the Czech striker headed home perfectly. It wasn’t the most difficult goal in the world, but Kozac demonstrated yet again that he knows how to finish. And this is really what matters most; staying calm and putting home the clear opportunities is the trademark of any great striker, and it appears that Kozac has indeed been blessed with this trait. He has a bright future ahead of him, and Lazio should already be thinking about signing him to a long-term contract.
From that point on, Lazio’s objective was basically to get a goal for Zarate. Subbed in with about 15 minutes left, he looked as hungry and determined as ever, immediately creating some dangerous chances. Unfortunately he couldn’t actually finish, with his usual bad luck seeing his best opportunities thwarted. That said, Zarate still had a very important impact on the game. Lazio were in control, but they had ceased to look threatening and needed to concentrate on keeping possession as much as possible. Zarate not only represented a one man attacking threat, he also did his usual brilliant job of maintaining possession in difficult situations. Even if he eventually dribbles the ball until he loses it, he still takes vital time in doing so, time in which his defense can rest and reorganize, and time in which the other team are forced to defend with extra players of their own. Zarate’s is a tactically important contribution.
Reja was understandably pleased with the team’s performance, and he feels that this is the start of another positive period for Lazio. Let’s hope so, because while Lazio remains in the hunt for a Champions League spot, the teams right behind are all very close. Just a few poor results and suddenly the Europa League might be in doubt, and this should absolutely be the team’s minimum objective. As important as every match is from here on out, there are some very, very big head to head games late in the year which could determine Lazio’s fate: Lazio – Juve, Inter – Lazio, and Udinese – Lazio. These matches will be the key to the season (with the 2nd derby and Napoli – Lazio not far behind), so let’s begin to get prepared for them now. Forza Lazio, e Non Mollare Mai!