Monday Sep 25, 2017  
     
 
  19/05/2014: Under the Microscope: 2013-14 Season
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I envisaged the idea of 'Under The Microscope' before the season had started, fully intent on taking one aspect of S.S. Lazio every week that I liked or hated, and dissecting it to the point of no return. In the end, the feature did not pan out that way. It ended up being (I hope) an anomaly of a season where too much was going on, which meant there was too much to look at on a weekly basis, and therefore too much to talk about in a weekly editorial such as this.

Ironic then that I am approaching the entire season in one single post, and yet I consider it wholly appropriate as despite everything, each game seemed to blur into the other in a season where chaotic events followed chaotic events in some kind of orderly fashion that made total sense to the Laziale.

Things need to change, and Edy Reja said as much in his post-match press conference. He indicated his desire to sit down with Lotito and put forward his idea of the future. Not merely a list of potential transfer targets, or criteria that needs to be met in order to keep Reja at the club; a Rejavolution that brings about real change. Edy Reja believes Lazio 'miss something' on the field, but what goes on off the field is of greater concern and Reja will be looking to make his working environment next season - should he remain - an altogether more positive place.

In my opinion, the easiest way to address off-field issues is to address on-field issues. At the end of the day, fans are protesting vehemently because they do not like the direction this club has taken. When taking part in Michael Di Mascio's "The North Curve" following the end of the summer mercato, I made an educated guess in predicting Lazio would finish outside the Europa League places but inside the Top 10 of Serie A. I was correct, but it was not a prediction of psychic proportions and to be honest, I could never have predicted that the season would go in the direction it did. And that's the problem; every fan feels the hopelessness that brings. Those who pay good money to visit the Stadio Olimpico on a weekly basis just want to be secure in the knowledge that there voice is being heard and is not going to waste.

So what went wrong? In my opinion, it started at the end of last season. The players took their foot off the gas the moment the unlikely Scudetto challenge faded and in no time at all, Lazio only had Europa League qualification and the cup competitions to fight for. It seemed to me as if Europa League qualification was set aside in favour of a silverware push, and having proceeded to exit the Europa League in somewhat unfortunate circumstances, the team had only one game to fight for. A trophy was on the line for the squad; the city on the line for the fans. We won, and it saved our season, but it papered over some cracks, which were obvious even then.

Vladimir Petkovic went with the flow, and the players seemed to be playing with confidence, but with a degree of delusion. Juventus brought us back down to earth with not one, but two bangs and at that point, the nails were being hammered into the Bosnian manager's coffin. Our market strategy had done him no favours; Felipe Anderson and Brayan Perea needed time and still do, while the star signing in Lucas Biglia - who I think was brought in to fill the void left by Gonzalez and his chronic foot injury - failed in that respect. A change in system to the 4-3-3 bore fruit, but Petkovic did not stick around until it was ripe for picking.

Edy Reja has done exactly that. I am not suggesting that Petkovic is the reason behind our improved form under Reja, but Zio Edy did admit yesterday that he 'changed as little as possible'. He suggested Lazio were not good enough to qualify for Europa League, and yet suggested that he had he been in charge from the off, he would have guaranteed European qualification. It is not the first time Reja has made that claim, but saying those words in the context of some of his other statements suggest he believes the poor form lies between the ears.

For me, it is dangerous to conclude that we have had a squad that was/is capable of challenging for Europa League, and that Vladimir Petkovic is the main reason we fell short. Recent games have surely shown otherwise; losses against Torino and Verona sealed Petkovic's fate, but we failed to beat them at home under Reja. Had we managed to do so, I would not be writing this editorial.

I would also argue that you can only judge this team over the entire season. Yesterday, a journalist mentioned to Reja that had the league started in January, Lazio would have finished fourth. It is worth mentioning that, had Serie A started in January, Parma would have qualified for the Champions League. Drawing the conclusion that Lazio are of Top 6 standard because they sustained that type of form over half-a-season is both naïve and inaccurate.

Lazio are simply not good enough to play in Europe and do not deserve to be there. Our first-choice centre-backs are out-of-contract in six weeks time with many suggesting they are not even good enough to merit renewals. Our main striker is the same age as Antonio Di Natale, who retired yesterday having scored double our striker's tally for the 2013-14 Serie A season. The player regarded as our best of the season - certainly among LazioLand members - is not even ours. 

And then there is the midfield. The one area everyone has overlooked. The midfield trio where two players bomb forward at will, leaving the one who stays behind completely exposed all too often. It has killed us time and time again this season and it pains me that it continues. If it continues into next season, we can expect more of the same.

If someone asked me for a keyword to explain the 2013-14 season it would be balance, or to be more precise, the lack of. There has been no degree of balance between defence and attack in the team, Lotito and the fans in the stands, Petkovic/Reja and Igli Tare on the market and so on. 

Lazio needs to be brought to equilibrium, and the key to finding equilibrium is to take off some of the weight, which Edy Reja has started to do in all fairness. I cannot help but feel that Lazio went into this season throwing weight about, hoping it all balances out in the end. In essence, we bought players that tipped the scales further in one direction. Now we must continue removing the correct weights; with Reja, or without. 

Forza Lazio!
Author: Cathal Mullan
 
 
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