In bars across Italy on Saturday afternoon, one question was probably being asked more than any other: “Who is this Giacomo Raspadori guy?”
It would be a perfectly reasonable query, even from a calcio aficionado, as the striker came out of the blue to play a starring role in Sassuolo’s stunning comeback win over Lazio.
The 20-year-old, making his first Serie A start and just his fifth top-flight outing in total, put the Neroverdi in front with a neat finish, only to be denied by a controversial VAR decision.
That didn’t stop him though, as he swept home the equaliser in the second half to top off an impressive full debut.
Roberto De Zerbi’s bravery in putting faith in the untested youngster, while leaving top scorer Francesco Caputo and second-top scorer Domenico Berardi on the bench, was the latest example of a bold squad rotation policy that has helped his side return to action in stunning style.
The victory in Rome was their fourth in a row, a feat they haven’t achieved since August 2016.
This form is thanks to – not despite – De Zerbi’s ability to make wholesale changes to his starting line-up without suffering a dip in performance; the sign of a well-coached team.
Since coming back and facing a relentless fixture calendar, the number of changes De Zerbi has made to his starting line-up each week has gone: seven, seven, eight, six, six, nine. An average of just over 7.2 changes per game.
Their record in that period? Four wins, two draws and one defeat. The coach has demonstrated a superb ability to weigh up when to give key players the rest they need, and when to take gambles.
Which brings us back to Raspadori. It was fitting that the striker scored his first goal against Lazio, because he is emblematic of the selection boldness that Aquile coach Simone Inzaghi has lacked since football’s return.
The Aquile’s list of squad issues has admittedly been a huge problem. Inzaghi has had to deal with injuries to captain Senad Lulic, Adam Marusic, Joaquin Correa, Lucas Leiva, Stefan Radu, Danilo Cataldi, Luiz Felipe, Raul Moro, Bobby Adekanye and suspensions for Ciro Immobile, Felipe Caicedo and Patric. It’s a long list.
Inzaghi’s changes to his starting XI game-by-game goes: three, one, two, two, three. An average of 2.2 per game.
Three of those were enforced, due to suspensions. It’s little wonder, then, that the Lazio players are tired, given the combination of relentless fixtures and heat.
But the argument that they’ve been penalised by the injury and suspension problems doesn’t stand up. Inzaghi doesn’t have to select players who have no energy left. He’s choosing to.
Silvio Proto, €12.5m man Denis Vavro, Nicolo Armini, Jorge Silva, Andre Anderson, Luca Falbo, Djavan Anderson and Bobby Adekanye are fit and ready to go.
Those are eight players who are available to step into the starting line-up when called upon.
Between them, they’ve played 137 minutes since the restart. Four of them – Proto, Armini, Silva and Falbo – haven’t got off the bench.
Lazio’s issue isn’t an absence of players, but a lack of willingness to use those they do have. Inzaghi hasn’t shown the same faith in his squad that De Zerbi has, and as a result his main men are running on fumes.
Of course, a lot of the aforementioned players are untested at this level. But so was Raspadori, and look how that went. If you never try, you’ll never know.
Inzaghi has always been a coach who puts his faith in a select group of players and sticks with them through thick and thin. In many ways, it’s been one of his greatest strengths during his time at Lazio.
But he must adapt to survive in the strange circumstances we currently find ourselves in, and taking a leaf out of De Zerbi’s book could be the first step to turning around what promises to be a sad end to an otherwise extraordinary campaign.