A string of shock results has characterised the start of the 2020/21 season across Europe. Expecting the unexpected will soon become the norm.
But while freak results aren’t quite as freakish as they once were, there were still few people predicting that Udinese would turn over Lazio in Rome on Sunday.
Everything pointed to a home win. The Biancocelesti were on an eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions and an 11-match unbeaten streak against the Zebrette – a period in which the Friuli side had earned just two points.
Although Lazio had some tired legs from their Champions League win over Zenit on Tuesday, Udinese had played 120 minutes in their Coppa Italia defeat to Fiorentina more recently, on Wednesday.
What’s more, the visitors arrived in the capital in terrible shape after losing six key players and their coach Luca Gotti due to an outbreak of the coronavirus.
A 3-1 win for the visitors, therefore, was a monumental surprise – but no less than their performance deserved. They were everything Lazio weren’t: physical, determined, organised and clinical.
It was a setback for Simone Inzaghi’s side, who squandered the chance to gain ground in the league standings after seeing Atalanta and Juventus drop points the day before.
But while the result could easily be brushed off as no more than an anomaly, the kind of extraordinary blip that we’re likely to see more of before this congested, demanding and unpredictable season is out, it did point to a trend that is a growing worry for the Biancocelesti: their poor home form in Serie A.
Lazio’s league record at the Olimpico this season now reads: W1 D2 L2.
Granted, they’ve had some stern tests against Atalanta, Inter and Juventus in that run, but when you throw in their home games after returning from lockdown last season, they have just three wins from 10 attempts.
The Aquile players are missing the energy of their home support more than most, as their form in Rome was previously one of their greatest strengths; they were unbeaten in 16 league matches at the Olimpico before suffering defeat to Milan in July.
Lazio’s issues on home turf are a concern, and Sunday’s dismal defeat to Udinese made this their worst start to a league season since 2013/14, when they finished ninth.
The 16 goals they’ve conceded is the highest amount after nine games since 1992, while they’ve now found themselves behind at half time six times this term, having done so nine times all last season.
The inevitable backlash about squad depth, Champions League demands and mentality will appear elsewhere, but making the Olimpico a fortress again would certainly be a big step towards mending the Aquile’s inconsistent league form.
Impressive Udinese find some form
It’s safe to say Udinese haven’t set the world alight this season. They came to Rome with just seven points and seven goals, having climbed out of the relegation zone the week before with their second win of the season against Genoa.
But they displayed an admirable team spirit in Rome, overcoming the problems posed by their hugely depleted numbers and the absence of their coach to end a six-year wait for a win against Lazio.
As is often the case after a shock result, much of the reaction will focus on the issues of the defeated club.
But Udinese deserve great praise for their approach, as they came with a game plan and executed it to perfection, soaking up pressure, suffocating Lazio’s dangerous players of any space to operate in, and demonstrating the calmness and composure to put away the chances they got.
With back-to-back wins under their belt now, confidence will be growing in the north-east that this team is capable of better than a simple survival scrap.