The Stadio Olimpico was as lifeless as Lazio’s Europa League campaign so far when the teams lined up for their meeting with Cluj on Thursday.
A small but rowdy group in the Curva Nord did their level best to create an atmosphere, but it was a hard task as their songs circled round thousands of empty blue seats in the desolate oval.
With little to raise pulses off the pitch and a heavily rotated team on it, undoubtedly the biggest source of intrigue from a Lazio perspective was how Bobby Adekanye would fare on his first start for the club.
The 20-year-old winger was signed from Liverpool over the summer after struggling to break into the first team at Anfield, and hopes were high that the Biancocelesti had got their hands on a rough diamond.
Pace and dribbling are considered Adekanye’s greatest traits and he’s had to adapt, much like Joaquin Correa a year ago, from a role out wide to operating through the middle.
That adaptation period has come almost entirely in training sessions up until now, as the Dutchman’s game time was limited to 10 minutes off the bench in the first game against Cluj and another four minutes against Genoa before he was handed a starting shirt on Thursday.
It promised to be a tricky night for the striker against a tightly packed visiting defence, but his restless movement unsettled the Romanians.
Adekanye got his first sniff when he made a well-timed run to meet Danilo Cataldi’s dinked pass over the top, but he couldn’t control a difficult volley on his left foot and sent it over.
After just 25 minutes, he made a significant impact by dropping deep to head another Cataldi pass into the path of Correa, who strolled into the box to fire in the opener and give the Dutchman an assist on his full debut.
If anything, the goal helped Adekanye’s cause as Cluj were forced to start playing and moved their defensive line higher up the pitch, giving the youngster more space to operate in and make the most of his speed.
His game clearly isn’t just about pace, though, as he showed an ability to hold off defenders far bigger than him and the intelligence to win free-kicks in good positions and relieve pressure from his side.
Unfortunately for the youngster, one of his best moments of the match was also the one he’ll want to forget. Adekanye led a counter-attack and made a neat exchange of passes with Correa before going down in the box as he cut inside a defender.
Referee Ali Palabiyik wasn’t having it and booked him for simulation, with replays showing that although there was contact, it probably wasn’t enough to merit the tumble.
Nevertheless, when the board came up just past the hour mark to announce the end of Adekanye’s contribution for the night, the crowd responded with warm applause for a player they had seen encouraging signs from.
Lazio’s forward options are excellent, but threadbare. Simone Inzaghi plays a system that uses two strikers but beyond his first-choice partnership of Correa and Ciro Immobile, he only has Caicedo and Adekanye waiting in the wings.
This was the former Liverpool man’s chance to prove that he is a credible option to rotate into the first team when the others are in need of rest, and he took it with both hands.