Lazio got their Europa League campaign off to a winning start as goals from Luis Alberto and Ciro Immobile gave them a 2-1 win over Apollon Limassol.
Emilio Zalaya pulled one back for the Cypriots at the death, but the capital club survived a nervy finale to earn a valuable three points.
Lazio flew out of the blocks, with Alessandro Murgia forcing a good save from Bruno Vale inside the first minute, and they were soon in front. With almost quarter of an hour gone, Felipe Caicedo sent Alberto clean through on goal with a wonderful backheel assist and the Spaniard was left free to pick his spot from 12 yards.
Caicedo came close himself in the first half but lacked the composure to finish two chances inside the box, while Bastos and Milinkovic-Savic also saw opportunities go begging as Lazio unsuccessfully pushed for a second before the break.
Apollon responded with an improved performance in the second half and had Simone Inzaghi’s side on the ropes at times. Half the stadium thought the visitors had found an equaliser after 67 minutes when a glancing header from Fotis Papoulis shaved the post on its way wide, before Andre Schembri also headed narrowly wide two minutes later.
A fierce driven free kick from substitute Sasa Markovic then clipped the outside of the post with ten minutes to go, but the home fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when Caicedo won a penalty with six minutes left on the clock which substitute Immobile duly converted.
The atmosphere changed again with three minutes to go when Apollon replacement Emilio Zelaya pulled one back after Lazio failed to clear their lines from a corner, but the hosts held on for the win despite Senad Lulic’s spectacular miss at the death with the goal gaping.
Improved strength in depth
Something that cost Lazio last season was a lack of depth in crucial positions, with key players picking up injuries during the run-in. That problem was addressed over the summer, with the notable exception of a backup striker, and this was the first opportunity to see some of the new faces in action.
Milan Badelj is an authoritative, confident presence in the heart of midfield, Riza Durmisi looks like a livewire on the wing and Silvio Proto is a reserve goalkeeper with top-level experience who can provide real competition for the young Thomas Strakosha.
Considering that two of Lazio’s most exciting summer buys, Joaquin Correa and Valon Berisha, are yet to be handed starting roles, Simone Inzaghi’s squad looks a lot better equipped to deal with the demands of three competitions than it was last term.
This was far from the perfect performance from the capital club, but with eight changes made to the team that defeated Empoli on Sunday it provides an encouraging platform to build on for a group of players who are still unfamiliar with one another.