Can Lazio make it a German double?
Lazio started their European campaign in mid-August, and face VfB Stuttgart on Thursday evening in a tie which has wide implications for both Italian and German football. For one, the Biancocelesti are yet to taste defeat in this year’s Europa League. Also in their five European home games this season, four wins and a draw, they have conceded just once and have kept four successive clean sheets at the Stadio Olimpico.
Lazio have selection issues going into the match in Stuttgart on Thursday night. They will be without their leading Serie A goal scorer Miroslav Klose, who is unlikely to play again this season. This is a massive blow to Lazio as they will miss the leadership and presence that he brings to all of Lazio’s matches. However this means that Libor Kozák could lead the line in Germany. He is currently the competition’s joint second highest scorer with five goals, two behind Napoli’s Edison Cavani. Stefano Mauri and Abdoulay Konko are also sidelined for the game meaning that Lazio coach Vladimir Petkovic will be unable to pick his best starting eleven.
Lazio will be looking to their key players to make the difference over the two legs. This is none more the case than with their goalkeeper Federico Marchetti. The Italian international has been in fine form this campaign and has produced some superb performances, most notably against the Italian champions Juventus. Marchetti has developed since his sub-par performances at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa for Italy and Lazio now possess a goalkeeper with great reflexes, strong command and reliability.
It is the midfield that most games of football are won and in Hernanes and Antonio Candreva, Lazio have two of the best in that area in Serie A. Hernanes has once again produced stunning performances for the Roman club this season. He has been an ever presences in Lazio’s Europa League run and has found the net eight times in Serie A this campaign. He is vital for Lazio and the way they set out to play. Everything goes through the Brazilian playmaker and Lazio will be keen to get him on the ball as much as possible.
Antonio Candreva did not start his career at Lazio too well. With constant rumours of him being a AS Roma fan and some indifferent performances, he did not make the impact that he was expected to make at the Stadio Olimpico after impressing at both Parma and Cesena. However after a string of fine goals and displays, Candreva is becoming a fan favourite in the Curva Nord and could well be the difference between Lazio and Stuttgart. But what about the German outfit?
Under the management of Bruno Labbadia, VfB Stuttgart have endured a mixed season. They are currently eleventh in the Bundesliga, only eight points above the relegation zone. However, in Europe they have performed well, finishing second in their group and beating Genk in the last round. Their Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic has been in excellent form, grabbing twenty goals so far this season in all competitions. Despite the club losing their star midfielder in January to Inter, Zdravko Kuzmanovic, Stuttgart still have talent in that area in the form of Christian Gentner and Martin Harnik. Lazio will be up against a familiarly face on Thursday as well. Federico Macheda was signed by Stuttgart in January from Manchester United on loan with a view to a permanent deal. The young Italian striker came through the Lazio youth system and will certainly have a point to prove against his home town team.
Lazio have the advantage of having the second leg of the tie at home, however, UEFA have ordered the game to be played behind closed doors after they decided to punish the club for “racist behaviour” by Lazio fans. The great atmosphere at the Olimpico, which had been evident during Lazio’s previous European games this campaign, will be replaced by a silent and dull environment next Thursday; which is undoubtedly a disadvantage for the Italian side.
Serie A followers will be cheering on Lazio over the next week in Europe as Italy now only has six clubs in European club competitions instead of seven. This is due to a recent dip in Italian club performances in Europe and a great improvement in German performances resulting in Germany rising to third in the UEFA Country Coefficients, the system that decides how many clubs from each country compete in UEFA organised tournaments, ahead of Italy. The only way that Italy are to regain that position is if their club sides improve in Europe, which they have this season in both the Champions League and the Europa League. Thus Italian/ German ties in Europe now take on even more significance.
Overall Lazio should be quietly confident going into this tie. They have never lost in Rome to a German side and are enjoying a fantastic season especially compared to Stuttgart. However, the German outfit still have undoubted quality and Lazio have never won a match in Germany against a German team. Although a win in Stuttgart is not essential, a good result is if Petkovic and his men are going to continue their remarkable season.
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