Tuesday Apr 20, 2021  
  07/05/2013: A Schizophrenic Lazio
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Lazio's performances this season have been light and dark - light from September to December, dark from January until Sunday afternoon just passed. Light at home, dark away. Light in Europe, dark in Serie A. At least that's how it feels to be a Laziale this season. The question for many fans now and beyond this season will be why we have seen two sides to this Lazio and which side is more reflective of this Lazio? The question going into next season then becomes what can Vladimir Petkovic do to bring out the lighter side week in, week out.

Statistics, although not conclusive, do show trends and areas for improvement and some of the figures that have been drawn up throughout the season are actually quite surprising. There is an impression that Petkovic likes to play an aggressive, forward-thinking, dominating game and it is an impression that Petkovic himself has helped establish but it is anything but true in practice.

In order to dominate your opponent, your players must keep possession and possession centres on your players' ability to successfully pass the ball around the park. When the neutral fan thinks of possession football, the image that springs to mind is usually Barcelona, La Liga and Xavi and Iniesta. In truth, Barcelona are the only Spanish side in a table of Europe's best 20 passing teams this season. More surprisingly perhaps is the fact that Serie A have eight representatives along with the Premier League. The table is completed by German champions Bayern Munich, champions-elect in France in the form of PSG and Ligue 1's Lille.

Lazio are not one of the eight representatives from Serie A. AC Milan head the Italians in 3rd place, closely followed by Juventus in 4th. Inter are 8th, Fiorentina are 12th, Napoli are 13th, Torino 17th, Parma 19th and Roma fittingly sit bottom in 20th. To put those figures into perspective, Torino and Parma have technically been better at passing the ball this season than Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund. Yet tellingly, Borussia Dortmund have had more possession than Torino or Parma because they have the ability to keep the ball for a longer period of time. In other words, they pass less often than Torino and Parma and instead run into dangerous areas with the ball.

It is in the pure possession stakes that Spain catches and matches up with Serie A. In the European Top 20 possession table, Spain have five representatives, equalling Serie A and the Premier League. It is in the pure possession stakes that the Bundesliga has been left for dead. At present, pundits and experts alike tend to focus on Spanish and German dominance on the continent while discussing the decline of Italy and more recently, England on the European stage. In my opinion, these statistics show that in Spain and Germany, there is less focus on keeping the ball and more focus on what teams do with the ball. Players in Spain and Germany are constantly looking to go forward, whereas in Italy players are constantly looking to build attacks and prevent opportunities and this trend has been apparent for decades.

The elite teams in Serie A are obviously very good at waiting for their opportunities and limiting the opposition with theirs. Lazio, less so. Lazio have only had 49.7% of possession in games this season, with Petkovic's squads being dominated more often than not. If Petkovic is serious about dominating the opposition, then the focus as of next season must be to field a team that can keep the ball, à la Montella's Fiorentina, who have been a revelation in Serie A this season. Lazio, however, are not the only side in Serie A's runaway top 9 that have managed to score points by having less of the ball. Catania have posted a record points tally with 45.4% possession, but their lack of possession can be explained by their willingness to absorb pressure and counter-attack. The other notable exception is Udinese, who sacrifice possession in favour of hitting direct balls into the path of Antonio Di Natale. When he hits 20+ a season at 35 and Udinese consistently make the top 5 in Serie A, you can understand why they stick with that approach. Lazio are neither a counter-attacking side or a side who play direct football and yet it was a combination of those two styles that saw Klose hit five at the weekend and Lazio emerge 6-0 victors.

Many will now make a case for Lazio to play a counter-attacking, direct game from this point onwards but would it work on a regular basis? Lazio have attempted less dribbles than any other side in Serie A's top 10 this season which shows that we would be completely ill-prepared to play counter-attacking football. Add to that the fact that we commit more fouls than any other side in the Top 10 aside from Parma and a counter-attacking Lazio would have severe trouble outscoring the opposition or keeping 11 players on the pitch.

A stronger case can be made for negative, direct football. Lazio could be Serie A's equivalent of Stoke City - only Stoke and Osasuna have won more aerial duels in Europe this season and when you consider our lack of possession, our inability to complete passes, our indiscipline and the fact Libor Kozak is the top goalscorer in Europa League, a picture begins to emerge of a Lazio that could be successful if we look to play a more negative game rather than a Lazio who wants to dominate each and every opponent. The fact we try to dominate on the road with a team who are more suited to playing a defensive game explains why we have only taken 17 points back to the Olimpico from a possible 54.

In conclusion, Lazio are a team in an identity crisis. A team who are well suited to shutting up shop, but are encouraged instead to play an attacking game. A team who rely on inidividual brilliance because it is not in their DNA to create opportunities. A team who have excelled in cup competitions because they are compact and united under pressure. A team who struggle on the road because they allow the home side to dominate and cannot carve out anything in response. A team that struggles to do anything more than not concede when legs get weary and so on.

The solution is surely staring Petkovic in the face. Either he needs to embrace the nature of the side, play more negatively and when the opportunity arises, replace the likes of Klose, Hernanes and Candreva with players of a higher standard, or he needs to slowly but surely dismantle the side and rebuild with individuals who are comfortable in defence and attack and are able to adapt to any situation. This is the challenge that lies ahead for Lazio, and it is not a challenge that can be taken lightly.

Author: C
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