Wednesday Jul 30, 2014  
     
 
  13/02/2013: Preview: Borussia Mönchengladbach - Lazio
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It has been a struggle recently. A fine win in the Coppa Italia semi-final has been sandwiched by poor Serie A form and with the Europa League looming, there is a sense around the club that Lazio are on the brink of a collapse. The mercato anarchy, which we have come to expect around the 31st January, was the catalyst for a fire, a fire which has yet to burn itself out although there does seem to be less smoke than there was previously.

And you can put that down to a good performance against Napoli. The performance alone gave many a reason to be optimistic. Lazio opened the scoring with a well-worked counter-attack and could have added a second, third, fourth, maybe even a fifth if only (a) Sergio Floccari did not have a personal vendetta against the woodwork and (b) Senad Lulic was as good as taking his chances as he was at carving the out for himself.

Unfortunately, Napoli also had their chances and while Lazio were resolute in defence, their solidity deserted them at a crucial moment as Hugo Campagnaro converted from a good delivery into the box. For the second week in succession, Lazio went missing on a corner. Once again, nobody seemed ready to anticipate the ball and nobody showed enough hunger to beat their opponent to it. Not enough intensity to see out the win, and that has been Lazio's primary problem in recent weeks.

Under Edy Reja, Lazio were pragmatic. The team could get hammered by anyone, but they would be able to pick themselves up off the floor, dust themselves down and bounce back with a win. Petkovic's Lazio is different - the trip to Catania aside, Lazio are a match for anyone in any given game, but there appears to be a real lack of bouncebackability. Nevertheless, pragmatism never had Lazio in a position to fight on three fronts come mid-February, so a dip in form is excusable perhaps.

And it is the dip in form that makes this game difficult to call. We have been here before, dumped out last season in, let's face it, the easiest of fashions by eventual victors, Atletico Madrid. This time out, we have an easier opponent on paper, but our legs are surely wearier and we have to make do without the talismanic Miroslav Klose. Prior to his injury, his form was pretty poor anyway but we all know what he is capable of and what dimension he would have given this encounter. Add to his absence the absence of captain Stefano Mauri and Lazio look much less of a threat on paper than we ideally would have done.

In saying that, I have to fancy Lazio to progress. Borussia Mönchengladbach qualified for the Champions League last season, which tells you something about the quality they possess, but they were dumped out before the group stage by a Dynamo Kiev, who were very average by their own standards. Their journey was over before it had even begun as they sacrificed a one goal lead in the home leg, succumbing to a 3-1 defeat. They mustered a fightback in the second leg, taking a 2-0 lead but Dynamo pulled one back and Mönchengladbach failed to find the third that would have sent the tie to extra time.

That game is a reflection of Borussia's season so far. They sit in 8th place in the Bundesliga and like Lazio, they are embroiled in a massive scrap for Europe. They've lost less games than us, but yet their goal difference is negative. Tough to beat, but when they've lost, they've gone down hard and in the games that they've won, which is only 7 out of 21, they haven't been too convincing. What will give Lazio real hope is a 5-0 hammering by Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, a 4-0 drubbing by Werder Bremen not long after and the fact that Fenerbahce smacked four goals past them at their own stadium in this very competition.

Expecting Lazio to hit four would be stretching it, but with a performance that shows the resilience of our games against Tottenham with the type of aggression we conjured up against Panathinaikos and NK Maribor, Lazio will do enough to travel back to the Stadio Olimpico with one foot in the next round. The Germans are a well-oiled machine, and are potentially devastating on their day, but you could say the same about Lazio and Mönchengladbach have lacked our consistency all season long.

We can also be optimistic over the fact that they haven't replaced Marko Reus effectively. Reus was central to their impressive campaign last season. The man they placed their hope in is Granit Xhaka, and he hasn't settled, which is why Igli Tare has spent the last six months questioning his availability. Then there is Luuk De Jong, who they have spent a small fortune on and who has yet to prove his worth. Igor De Camargo, who I would have feared for his general contribution if nothing else has been sent off to Hoffenheim leaving Borussia short for options in attack although unlike Lazio, they do have their talisman available in Venezuelan winger Juan Arango.

But a 3-3 draw with Stuttgart at the weekend says it all. They are vulnerable, but they will make up for it with aggression. Ultimately, this is going to turn into a battle between two talented Swiss managers in Lucien Favre and Vladimir Petkovic and the team that progresses will do so because they set their stall out correctly. With that in mind, I expect Petkovic to go with what is tried and trusted - the 4-1-4-1 (or 4-2-3-1 as it actually shapes up) and I expect Lazio to soak up the pressure and then look to put the Germans to bed on the counter. Favre and Borussia, on the other hand - they just have to go for it and hope they don't concede the often fatal away goal.

There will be a key battle on the park for me. Borussia have a young centre-back pairing and they will be protected by the highly-rated Norwegian Havard Nordtveit. Hernanes' experience and the pace of Lulic and Candreva could cause them a lot of problems. Also, look out for opposition goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen - in ter Stegen, Borussia have their very own Marchetti and on a night where many goals should be expected, the tie could be won or lost with the men between the posts.

Borussia Mönchengladbach (4-4-2): Stegen, Alvaro Dominguez, Jantschke, Brouwers, Wendt, Xhaka, Nordtveit, Arango, Herrmann, Hanke, L. De Jong.

Lazio (4-2-3-1): Marchetti, Konko, Dias, Biava, Radu, Ledesma, Gonzalez, Candreva, Hernanes, Lulic, Floccari





Author: Cathal Mullan
 
 
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