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Lazio vs Sassuolo
Match Date: 05-10-2014
Location: Rome
Stadium Olimpico
Referee Tommasi
Time 15:00 CET
Lazio welcome bottom-of-the-table Sassuolo to the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday for an afternoon tussle that could well be more exciting than it looks on paper. Coming off the back of a 4-0 win - a scoreline that could easily have been reversed on another night - Lazio go into this game knowing how to put the round object in the back of that net. Meanwhile Sassuolo know all too well what it feels like for that round thing to hit their own net. Yet, with Lazio's shakiness at the back and Sassuolo's dynamic forward line, this could end up being anything from a bore draw to a basketball score.

Much like last season, it has not started well for mini-Roma legend Eusebio Di Francesco. Last season he was sacked, but came back and redeemed himself and earned a contract extension. You would think he would be given more time to turn things around this season, but Sassuolo have received significant investment this summer and the results so far have been abysmal. A loss here could be the end of Di Francesco's second spell at the club, but with the massively influential and even more volatile Domenico Berardi returning to the fold, this Sassuolo side could have some fire in the belly come Sunday. Berardi should not feature - a three game ban for a deliberate elbow in a player's face when you've got previous form is laughable - but Di Francesco is unlikely to extend his absence. In fact, Berardi is likely to relegate an old friend in Sergio Floccari to the bench.

It is quite easy to sum up Sassuolo in one long sentence; they can destroy you on their day but at present, their midfield is little more than functional and their defence has much promise, but none of them seem to be tuned into each other. Basically, we could lose this rather easily if it comes together for them, but it hasn't done and therefore with the right attitude, this should be the perfect opportunity to multiply our points tally by 50%. The bottom line is, Sassuolo have made too many changes in the last 12-18 months and the squad are playing at a fraction of what they are capable of.

Stefano Pioli impressed me on Monday night. Very often, managers are treated as if they are pulling the strings on 11 puppets but you cannot control the actions of your players. You can influence them and make the right calls and that is what every manager should be judged on. Against Palermo, Pioli made all the right calls. We were far from perfect - Stefan De Vrij in particular was a cause for concern once again - but the players cannot shirk their own responsibilities. The manager's is simply to get the best out of this team and by virtue of having Filip Djordjevic on the pitch, it was mission accomplished. We changed system on the night to a 4-2-3-1, but the game was won by having the Serbian on the pitch. Good call, Stefano.

The reward for making some good decisions is to make more good decisions. Do we stick with the 4-2-3-1 now because the players delivered points when playing in those roles, or do we go back to Plan A? That is the toughest call of all. I could be wrong, but I believe the decision to change system had something to do with the manager's distrust of Cristian Ledesma. Ogenyi Onazi was handed the holding role while Marco Parolo was made to provide more cover than he normally would. That worked, but was it just a temporary measure? Will 'Plan A' be reactivated? I think so, and this is the right game to try and get us back on track with the original plan, but will Pioli have the courage to revert back to 'Plan A' this weekend without Lucas Biglia? His omission from the Argentine national team would suggest Lazio are planning to give him another couple of weeks to recover.

In fact, Lazio are expected to give anyone who is carrying an injury the weekend off, with the exception of Edson Braafheid whose head injury is preventing him from training fully at present. The club need him on Sunday and he will play. Cana and Cavanda should retain their places in the starting eleven, but there is a slight doubt over De Vrij. He is expected to start, but he is not 100% and that leaves the door slightly ajar for Diego Novaretti.

In midfield, I expect Pioli to keep faith in those that earned the win in Sicily. Like De Vrij, Marco Parolo is not 100% - he has played a lot recently - but I cannot see him being spared on Sunday. Pioli seems to favour Onazi over Ledesma, and I would expect the Nigerian to start even if he has a tough schedule ahead of him. So does Lulic, but fitness is his strong suit and he should start. I wouldn't rule out a potential surprise. There seems to be a real effort to get Danilo Cataldi back into action, and although Pioli is not expecting to risk anyone returning from injury, I think there is a chance Cataldi will be called up as Lulic's form has been far from stellar. When the 'convocati' are released, check to see if Danilo is on the list. If he is, do not be surprised if he starts.

In attack, would you have the balls to drop Filip Djordjevic? I probably would, if only to teach him not to try ridiculously audacious backheels when what we need more than anything else is three points on the board. You would probably say such a decision would be stupid rather than brave? Probably, which is why I expect Pioli to start him regardless of his antics. Antonio Candreva was rested early on Monday, so I expect him to line up on the right. It is the final spot that is up in the air. Personally, I thought Stefano Mauri was poor on Monday night and although he impressed in his latest cameo, I felt Felipe Anderson benefitted from coming up against a visibly drained Palermo defence. I still cannot fathom why Keita is not starting these games, and although I will probably be wrong once again, I will stick my neck out and say he starts against Sassuolo.

I was enthusiastic about our chances against Palermo based on my theory that Palermo, despite achieving good results, would struggle to eke out a win. At 0-0, they had a number of opportunities to take the lead but there was a psychological wall there. Sassuolo are in such a predicament that they have no alternative but to break down their psychological barriers. They have to come out fighting because they need three points. It could be against us, it could be after the international break but at some point, they are going to overcome that obstacle and come away with three points. Stefano Pioli has been in the game long enough to know how it works, and he was in that very predicament with Bologna this time last year.

We need to exercise caution early doors, but the key to winning this game is the key to having a good season; we have to learn from our mistakes, and learn quickly. That is what we did on Monday night, but the scoreline was flattering. There were errors in our performance and Pioli needs to draw the right conclusions. The margin between victory and defeat is very small in this division, but my mood on a Monday morning ranges from unapproachable to incredibly friendly.

Pioli, make me a very friendly boy on Monday morning. Give us three points!

Predicted line-up:
(4-3-3): Marchetti; Cavanda, De Vrij, Cana, Braafheid; Parolo, Onazi, Lulic; Candreva, Djordjevic, Keita.


Writer: Cathal Mullan
 
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Team Name Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
3Lazio382161171383369
12Sassuolo381213134957-849
 
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31 08 2014 AC Milan vs Lazio 3-131 08 2014 Sassuolo vs Cagliari 1-1
 
 
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