The 2013/14 Serie A season has been one to forget for Laziali so far, with a woeful away record, creaking defence and toothless forward line culminating in an underwhelming tenth place position at the winter break.
The squad has enjoyed slightly more success on the European front, after a second place finish in Europa League Group J has set up a last 32 clash against Bulgarian dark horses Ludogorets Razgrad next year.
However, the Lazio fans have been vocally discontent with a string of poor performances that peaked with a 4-1 defeat against newly promoted Hellas Verona on Sunday. After a successful campaign last season that included a Coppa Italia triumph, the pressure has increased on coach Vladimir Petkovic to turn things around and Claudio Lotito to add fresh alternatives in January.
Last season Petkovic elected to use a 4-1-4-1 system that could quickly evolve into a 4-2-3-1. Whilst these systems have both been used during the course of the current campaign, the Bosnian coach has also followed the current trend in frequently deploying a 4-3-3, with advanced wingers (often Keita Balde Diao and Antonio Candreva) flanking the central striker.
Although in theory the current Lazio squad contains the players required to make this system a success, the team has never really gelled using it and a multitude of midfielders have looked uncomfortable in unfamiliar roles. The previously ever-present Cristian Ledesma has lost his place after the signing of Lucas Biglia, and looks uncharacteristically complacent when back in the side and playing as part of a central three rather than between the defence and midfield lines.
Hernanes has also been in poor form, playing in a more reserved role that has restricted his ability to orchestrate attacks and score with his trademark long-range strikes. The link-up between midfield and attack has been extremely poor, with creativity lacking in the middle of the park and the team often relying on desperate pop-shots from distance. Not to mention the catastrophic organisation of a defence that has conceded 26 Serie A goals, the fifth worst record in the league.
The 18-year-old winger Keita Balde Diao has fought his way into the starting line-up in his first professional season since being promoted from the Scudetto-winning Primavera side of last season.
He has shown some exceptional pace and trickery, causing problems for opposition defences and displaying an eye for goal, with his spectacular solo effort against Napoli the undisputed highlight.
The former Barcelona prodigy is certainly one of the most exciting players to have emerged from the club’s youth system in the last few years.
Worst performer: Michael Ciani
The defence has offered quite a few nominees for this title, but thanks to his self-destructive nature and a collection of individual gaffs, it has to go to Michael Ciani.
The giant Frenchman has been a regular member of the leaking Lazio defence, and has struggled to form an effective partnership with Lorik Cana. He possesses enormous strength and physicality, but his lack of pace and technique has seen him frequently embarrassed by opposition strikers. Watch Napoli’s final goal from their 4-2 win earlier this month for an example.
Transfer of the season so far: Lucas Biglia
The club brought in a multitude of new signings over the summer, but frustrated fans by ignoring the squad’s points of weakness, namely the central defence and strikers. Biglia has not been particularly outstanding so far, but he has done enough to push the experienced Cristian Ledesma out of the side and has put in some solid performances from central midfield.
Brayan Perea and Felipe Anderson have had a handful of decent appearances, but Diego Novaretti has struggled along with his defensive colleagues and the other additions of Etrit Berisha, Josip Elez, and Vinicius have rarely featured.
Vladimir Petkovic being appointed the new coach of the Switzerland national team. Whilst it is still unclear whether the club will agree to continue with the Bosnian for the rest of the season, his decision to leave Lazio in the summer confirms that the club needs a change.
Bringing in a new coach at this stage of the season could provide a transformation, with time to settle in over the winter break and have a say on what new signings to bring in during the January mercato.
Rumours have focused mainly on Basel’s Murat Yakin, Sampdoria’s Sinisa Mihajlovic and the return of ‘zio’ Edy Reja, but many will be disappointed to hear that Paolo Di Canio has ruled himself out, stating that ‘I would never take the job in my life with Lotito there’.
What needs to happen in 2014?
This can be summarised quite easily.
1. Sort out the Petkovic situation. Many fans will want him to leave immediately instead of half-heartedly continuing until the summer, and if a replacement is to be brought in this must be done swiftly and in accordance with the fans’ wishes.
2. Sign defenders and a striker in January. The performances of Andre Dias, Michael Ciani et al may have entertained the neutrals so far this season but enough is enough, and reinforcements must arrive. Laziali have been calling for a ‘vice-Klose’ for a very long time now, and the efforts of Sergio Floccari and Brayan Perea in the German’s absence only prove that the addition of a prolific forward is essential to sharpen up the attack.
3. Learn how to win away. There has not been a single away victory all season, and the win against Inter back in May was the only success on the road for the Biancoceleste in the entire calendar year of 2013. Four points and a minus ten goal difference is the away record so far. Only rock-bottom Catania have done worse in the current campaign.