It was slack, it was sloppy, it was lazy. It was Lazio’s efforts in the Europa League summed up in a single moment.
Valon Berisha’s hospital pass in the final minute of stoppage time sent Celtic clean through on goal, and Olivier Ntcham tucked the ball away neatly to give the Scottish champions their second late win in two weeks over their Roman rivals.
It’s not as if they hadn’t already been warned. A performance of remarkable carelessness from Lazio had seen them already concede off the back of two individual errors, one from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and another from Francesco Acerbi.
The visitors pounced on every loose ball – and there were plenty – with glee, streaming through on the counter time and again. Luis Felipe was forced into a couple of excellent 1v1 interventions, but there was no coming back from Berisha’s error.
It was the second time in a fortnight that Lazio had conceded late to lose against the Scots.
It was the third game out of four in the group stage in which Simone Inzaghi’s side have thrown away a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1.
And in the other, they only played well for the final half hour against Rennes, which was fortunately enough to claim a narrow win against a side that has since been shown up as the whipping boys of the group.
Lazio’s European adventure may not be completely dead yet, but the heartbeat is fading. They need to win their remaining two games and hope that Celtic can do them a favour by beating Cluj.
It wasn’t just the carelessness of Berisha’s pass that was typical of the Biancocelesti’s displays in the competition, but the identity of the perpetrator.
The Aquile have had a fairly easy time of qualifying for the knockout stages in recent years while using a rotated team, but the fringe players who have been used this term have failed to step up to the challenge.
Berisha is one of them, but he’s not alone. Denis Vavro, Jony, Marco Parolo and Felipe Caicedo all started against Celtic on Thursday with points to prove and none of them came away having strengthened their case for more regular game time.
Lazio’s inability to get results in these games with a weakened team has sparked concerns about the strength of depth in the squad – a common debate for the last few years.
And while some have made the argument that a group stage exit could be a good thing for the club’s top four aspirations in the long run, there are legitimate worries about the ability of the fringe players to step up when needed.
Inzaghi has sometimes come in for criticism for not offering more game time to the likes Berisha, Vavro and Jony, but their inability to put in a convincing shift when given chances so far has justified the coach’s selection – and raised some questions over the club’s transfer policy.
In the last two summer transfer windows, €7.6m was spent on Berisha, another €7.5m on forgotten man Riza Durmisi and €10.5m on Vavro. All three are yet to make their presence even slightly felt in a light blue shirt.
While there have been success stories too – Acerbi, Joaquin Correa and a decent start for Manuel Lazzari – there is no doubt that Lazio should expect and demand a greater return from their other large investments.
Lazio’s strongest 11 is good enough to secure a Champions League spot, but they can’t count on it to be available over 38 weeks of a league season.
On the evidence of their disastrous Europa League campaign, those waiting in the wings are unlikely to help them get there.