Tuesday Jul 29, 2014  
     
 
  22/01/2013: Laying Down The Gauntlet
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While Vladmir Petkovic felt that Saturday's draw against Palermo was “the right result”, the media were quick to quash Lazio as a contender for the Scudetto. It was said beforehand that if the Biancoceleste were to challenge for the title, then matches against lowly Palermo should be a breeze for Petkovic’s men.

Travelling to Sicily is never an easy task for any team, even more so when your opponent is fighting for their lives. There were notable absentees before the match with Miroslav Klose and Abdoulay Konko missing out. Deputising for Klose, Sergio Floccari proved he can step in for the German when needed after netting the opening goal, and having a second wrongly ruled out for offside.

Luis Cavanda was asked to fill the void left by Konko, and it may have proved to be part of Lazio’s downfall. Lorik Cana stepped in for the benched Alvaro Gonzalez, and considering the shuffling of the pack that Petkovic implied, a point wasn’t such a bad result after all. Last year saw Lazio recieve a 5-1 defeat when travelling to Palermo when Edy Reja was at the helm, so it must be taken as an improvement.

I felt it was important that the unbeaten run remained intact going into the Coppa Italia semi-final midweek against Juventus. The Bianconeri themselves are coming off the back of an emphatic 4-0 home win against Udinese, meaning it will be one hell of a task travelling north on Tuesday, even more so if Lazio were on the back of a defeat.

Ahead of Tuesday’s Coppa encounter with the Champions, Petkovic has stated that Klose, Konko, and Stefan Radu are all doubts. The three have been vital parts of Lazio’s season so far, and the coach has voiced his concerns.

During his press conference Petkovic said “I want a disciplined side who will play an intelligent game. We can’t be too defensive. We must play with focus and with our heads up. Now we are a side of warriors. Juventus are certainly the strongest side in the championship, even if we are doing well seeing as we are averaging more than two points a game.”

It should be known that Lazio’s priority this term is qualification for the Champions League. Having narrowly missed out on that in the previous two campaigns, it is a must that Petkovic can guide the team over that mark this time round.

It is debatable that Lazio have a much stronger squad than their rivals challenging for that spot, providing the medical staff can keep on top of a fit and healthy group. The advantage Juventus have is that depth is evident throughout their squad, and bringing replacements in is never a problem for the Bianconeri when needed.

If we look at the funds available to Juventus on a yearly basis compared to that of Lazio, we can be sure that good things are happening at the club. Spending just the €4 million on Michael Ciani in the summer, Lazio have still managed to keep in the shadows of the leaders for the majority of the campaign, and it must be said that togetherness in the group is paying off.

It is easy to see that Lazio need some added depth, the favoured starting eleven is arguably one of the best in Italy. However, take a few names out of that eleven and Lazio struggle to adequately plug the gaps. I am sure that had Klose and Konko been present in Sicily, the Biancocelesti would have taken maximum points.

It remains to be seen if Lazio will bring anyone in during the window. Many have suggested the club go for a ‘vice-Klose’ while many think a defensive midfielder is a priority. In my own opinion I think Lazio need more depth on the wings. If Petkovic takes Lulic and Candreva out of the team, creativity is lacking from that position.

At this moment in time, it is hard to tip Lazio for Scudetto glory, but while the gap is just five points between themselves and Juventus, it would be stupid to write anybody off just yet. If Petkovic can manage with the squad he has to finish inside the top three, then that will be more than sufficient considering the budget the club is working with.

Having Champions League football in Rome next season would be a platform the club needs in order to attract some major squad players during the next pre-season. The club should take it one step at a time in regards to ambitions, because I am adamant that Lazio can be a real challenger to Juventus in the foreseeable future.

Follow Ben Lally on Twitter @benlally87
Author: Ben Lally
 
 
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