Lazio Club Focus: Season Preview 2013/14
Looking ahead to a fresh season of Serie A football, not much appears to have changed in the Lazio camp. Fans of the Biancoceleste ended last season in the elation of a Coppa Italia triumph over fierce rivals Roma, an achievement that was considered by many laziali to have deemed the entire campaign a success.
However it was the same old story when it came to domestic form as an impressive first half of the season gave way to a familiar post-January collapse, during which the Aquile conceded their Champions League ambitions by recording a meagre two wins in the period from January 19th-May 5th.
The most convincing argument for this dip in form is that the squad did not contain enough quality in depth to effectively compete on three fronts, as the club also had lengthy runs in the Coppa Italia and Europa League.
It was therefore seen as essential for Lazio to bring in reinforcements over the summer, particularly a ‘vice-Klose’ and someone capable of shadowing the overused Hernanes.
Casting an eye over Lazio’s business in the mercato so far, it is evident that much more work needs to be done before the window slams shut. Lucas Biglia represents the club’s most accomplished signing, an Argentine international midfielder who captained and won silverware with Anderlecht.
The club also managed to tie down Felipe Anderson, the Brazilian playmaker who was expected to arrive in January before the deal collapsed at the last minute.
The remaining additions of Vinicius, Brayan Perea, Diego Novaretti and Josip Elez are relative unknowns, but Novaretti’s strength and experience could see him adapt well to the Italian game after spending the last four seasons with Toluca in Mexico.
The club have so far retained their most valuable assets such as Federico Marchetti, Antonio Candreva and Hernanes despite constant media speculation, particularly connecting the latter to free-spending Paris Saint-Germain.
Defender Modibo Diakite has left to join Paolo Di Canio’s revolution at Sunderland, and the fraught relationship between Lazio and the enigmatic Mauro Zarate has finally come to an end after he returned home to join Velez Sarsfield.
The most damaging loss of personnel has come from an area outside of the club’s control, as captain Stefano Mauri has been banned for six months for failing to report match fixing.
The influential midfielder is awaiting a verdict on his appeal, and fans will hold their collective breath in the hope that the influential 33-year-old will soon be available for selection.
Coach Vladimir Petkovic will face a tough second season in the capital. Despite earning the respect of the fans for the Coppa Italia success and a strong European run, the Bosnian has received a lot of criticism for his side’s capitulation in their 4-0 defeat to Juventus in the Supercoppa.
A slow start to the Serie A season could see the fans begin to lose patience with the 50-year-old. However, it should be considered that the club competed more strongly on three fronts last season than it has done in years and the Bosnian masterminded Lazio’s path to their first piece of silverware since 2009.
Squad depth has been a major issue when it comes to domestic form, and with Petkovic seeming at times unable to implement a new system when form dipped and injuries occurred last season, he will need to utilise his squad better this time around with another Europa League campaign looming.
The Bosnian arrived as something of an unknown last summer, having enjoyed his most successful spell at Young Boys in the Swiss Super League.
Nicknamed ‘The Doctor’ for his highly analytical approach to preparation, Petkovic will be expected to improve on a 7th-place Serie A finish in order to convince the club and its fans that he is the man to take them forward.
Predicting what lies ahead for Lazio this season is complicated by the tendency of the club to conduct its business towards the end of the mercato. For example, if the recent claims in the Turkish press that Burak Yilmaz is set for a move to Rome are true, the fans’ ambitions for the season will alter dramatically.
Sergio Floccari, Libor Kozak and young Antonio Rozzi have their merits but will not be enough to allow the club to compete at the highest level should Klose pick up an injury.
The goal for the last few seasons has always been Champions League football, but with Serie A now only offering three places and several sides strengthening impressively it is hard to envisage a top-three finish unless a top class striker is signed before the end of the window.
Therefore a top-five finish is a realistic ambition as things stand, with the addition of another Europa League and Coppa Italia run. The potential for a derby in the Coppa semi-final offers a huge incentive for Lazio to reach the latter stages.
The league derby matches will again be integral to how the season pans out, and with the Biancoceleste finding themselves unbeaten in the last five meetings they will see the confirmation of their status as the first team in Rome as one of the fundamental targets for the 2013/14 season.
Follow Alasdair Mackenzie on Twitter: @olimpiacalcio