It isn’t completely his fault (otherwise it would say 100%), but Reja deserves the blame for this one. Lazio are not participating in any other competitions. They are out of the league cup, and they were never a part of any European play. They are free to focus 100% on the league. They are not coming off a successful season which might cause the players to lack some fire this year (see Inter), so there is absolutely no excuse for the team looking the way it did against Chievo.
Yes, Chievo are a decent team. They beat Napoli badly mid-week, and they always give the big teams a hard time. But the Chievo that came to Rome on Sunday was below their usual standard. They looked tired and lacked focus. Unlike Bologna, who played against Lazio as if their lives depended on it, Chievo was ripe to be beaten. And it wasn’t bad luck this time. Lazio didn’t bombard their net with good chances and merely fail to score, they simply lacked any and all desire for the result.
Zarate was back from suspension, and for the first time we got to see him partner with Kozac, meaning two of Lazio’s brightest young stars were starting up front. The midfield was centered around the Brazilian pairing of Hernanes and Matuzalem, with the usual starting four in the back. It all sounds rather positive, until you realize that one of the two names not mentioned was Mark Bresciano. Why he was starting is a mystery, but when Radu went down with an injury and was replaced by Scaloni, it meant that Lazio had one side of the field completely manned by Serie B level talent.
Lazio actually played fairly well in the first half, creating a few good chances. A header from Dias was cleared off the line, and a dangerous shot from Kozac was saved well before the play was stopped by the referee. Kozac had done something wrong, but nobody was quite sure what. Numerous replays revealed absolutely nothing, yet a foul was called against Kozac and the Chievo players even gave him a hard time, with only Lichtsteiner coming to his aide. It seems too incredible to be true, but there was no question that the referee had been “conditioned” by the media attack on Kozac. He was whistled for many more fouls than in previous matches (several of them non-existent), and he only received a handful of calls in his favor.
Just when it seemed as though Lazio would enter the halftime break with no advantage, a brilliant free-kick from Hernanes provided a very welcome lead. Hernanes’ shot was nothing short of amazing, and the sort of world class goal that the Stadio Olimpico hasn’t seen for quite some time (from either team that plays there). Suddenly things were looking up: Lazio wasn’t creating many chances, but Chievo was doing absolutely nothing.
As expected, Lazio’s attitude in the second half was heavily influenced by its one goal lead. There was no urgency, and viewers could certainly have gotten the impression that Lazio was happy to try and win the game 1-0. One of the few players who continued to provide some fire was Matuzalem, so it was fitting that he was the one fouled (the referee didn’t blow the whistle, but it was absolutely a foul) before Chievo equalized. Not to be confused with the foul on Dias, which came after the corner (and was also not called). But the blame lies not with the referee, but with a few Lazio players. First and foremost, the entire action started when Biava made an incredibly silly mistake. When he beat Pellissier to a long ball, instead of passing it to someone or safely hitting it out of bounds, he simply gave it directly to Pellissier, as if they were teammates. From there you had Scaloni making yet another poor challenge for the corner kick, followed by Muslera allowing the ball to casually pass 1 meter in front of the net.
So after Lazio had looked completely flat to start the half, they suddenly needed to come to life in an effort to retake the lead. Reja’s solution? Take out Hernanes and Zarate. Enough said, game over.
Lazio has three players that are clear step above the rest. Players that could easily find space in any of the worlds top club teams. They are Dias, Hernanes and Zarate. Argue about Muslera, Floccari and Mauri all you want, but the first three mentioned are without question. So how in the world do you take two of them out, nearly simultaneously, late in a match? A match in which your opponent is totally lifeless and not presenting any offensive threat at all? And how do you leave Bresciano on the field? He shouldn’t have been there to begin with, but when he stopped running after 65 minutes it should have been a clear sign. Why put Scaloni in for Radu? He was, once again, a completely disaster. Gonzalez can’t play left back? I’d bet my life he would be willing to try, and in the process do a better job than Scaloni, but even if he couldn’t, why not move Brocchi there and put Gonzalez in the midfield?
Reja has done a good job this year. The team enjoys a points total that is way above expectations. Yet certain things are so obviously being done wrong. How is it that every person in the stadium, and all those watching on TV, can know something that the coach doesn’t know? This isn’t merely a matter of opinion either. The correct thing to do was leave Zarate and Hernanes on the field.