If there’s one thing this Lazio side can’t be accused of, it’s being predictable.
The Aquile are still clinging onto the coat-tails of Juventus thanks to a win over Fiorentina that stood in stark contrast to their collapse at Atalanta just three days earlier.
In Bergamo, Lazio started fast to take a two-goal lead before retreating, exhausted, deep into their own half and eventually throwing away their advantage to lose.
In Rome, a slow start allowed Fiorentina to get their noses in front, but a spirited second half performance – not to mention some questionable refereeing – helped Simone Inzaghi’s side overturn the result in their favour.
‘Spirited’ is the key word here. This team’s winning mentality, it’s unity, it’s attitude to adversity, has been more important to their remarkable league form this season than the goals of Ciro Immobile, guile of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and creativity of Luis Alberto combined.
That mental fortitude was missing in Bergamo. Whether that was due to a loss of momentum after such a long break, or simply the physical exhaustion of facing Gian Piero Gasperini’s frantic pressing machine in their first game back, is hard to say.
But it returned with a bang on Saturday night. Every one of Inzaghi’s touchline roars, Francesco Acerbi’s commanding shouts or Stefan Radu’s clattering tackles were signs of the unshakeable confidence that has been instilled in this team over the last year.
The mentality of a team can’t be statistically measured, and therefore it has often been overlooked in discussions about Lazio’s improvement.
It’s easy to find Immobile’s goals-per-game ratio, Alberto’s number of key passes or Acerbi’s aerial duels and use them to create a narrative. It’s not so easy when it comes to attitude.
Perhaps the best way of attempting to is by looking at comebacks such as Saturday’s win over the Viola, considering that pulling off a turnaround requires the ability to overcome a negative situation through will and determination as much as skill or luck.
When the Aquile fought back from behind to beat Rennes 2-1 in the Europa League group stages on October 3, it was something of a landmark. It ended a run stretching back to April 18, 2018 in which Lazio had failed to win a single game from a losing position.
Soon after, there came a home clash with Atalanta that came to be regarded as a turning point in the season. The Romans trailed 3-0 at half time, but managed to salvage a point after replying with three goals of their own in the second half. It was at this moment that the capital club’s unlikely title push was born.
It was a result, and performance, that convinced Inzaghi and his players they were capable of salvaging results from seemingly impossible situations. This team had become a laughing stock for their infamous blackouts and often looked stripped of all confidence in big matches.
Since the Atalanta draw, they’ve never given up on a game. It’s remarkable how often Lazio have won in the dying moments this season, including their first meeting with Fiorentina, when Immobile sealed a 2-1 victory in the 89th minute.
But the comeback has become the truly distinctive characteristic of this team in 2019/20. Since the dramatic turnaround against Atalanta, Lazio have fallen behind in games against Juventus, Cagliari, Brescia, Inter and now Fiorentina, winning them all.
All hail Fantastic Franck
He’s 37 years old. He’s recently recovered from serious ligament damage. He was in lockdown for more than two months and unable to train properly.
There are plenty of reasons for Franck Ribery to not be as breathtakingly watchable as he was on Saturday night.
His goal against Lazio was a thing of beauty, demonstrating the kind of individual brilliance that few players in Serie A are capable of.
The close control to get between two defenders, the awareness to get past Acerbi with a dummy, the composure to finish off the whole thing. It was a masterpiece.
Ribery is a gift for Serie A viewers and we should just sit back and enjoy it while it lasts.