STADIO OLIMPICO (ROME): A routine win against a Salernitana side sitting second-bottom in the standings might not seem like a particularly significant moment for a club like Lazio. But don’t be fooled.
Since arriving in Rome this summer, Maurizio Sarri has struggled with one thing above all: getting a tune from his team after European games.
Before their 3-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, the Biancocelesti had established a pattern of European hangovers that was perplexing and damaging in equal measure.
In September, defeat against Galatasaray was followed by a 2-2 draw at home to Cagliari. That was one of only six points the rock-bottom Sardinians have picked up all season.
It got worse. Beating Lokomotiv Moscow came at the expense of a humiliating 3-0 defeat in Bologna three days later.
And days after a 0-0 draw against Marseille in Rome last month, Sarri’s side had their pants pulled down by four-goal Giovanni Simeone during a 4-1 defeat at the Bentegodi.
What Lazio would give now to have picked up more than one point from that trio of – on paper at least – very winnable games.
But the victory over Salernitana was comfortable, despite seven of the players who started in a 2-2 draw in Marseille four days earlier powering through the fatigue to line up again at the Olimpico.
It was the Biancocelesti’s biggest margin of victory since smashing Spezia 6-1 in week two of the season, but the ease with which they achieved it was a promising sign for a side still hunting for continuity.
They certainly have that at home, at least. Lazio’s record in Rome is mightily impressive; they’ve won 16 home league matches in 2021, the most in a single calendar year since 1950, and they are unbeaten at their Olimpico fortress in all competitions since losing 4-1 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16 in February.
In Serie A, you have to go back to December 2020 – against apparent bogey team Verona – to find a home defeat.
But Sarri’s side are finding general continuity too, through the performances of the collective and the individuals.
Danilo Cataldi has come on leaps and bounds as the pivot of midfield, and no greater evidence is needed of his improvement than his call-up to the Italy squad on Monday, where he will hope to earn his first senior Azzurri cap.
Sarri has now settled on his favoured team, with Cataldi the final piece to fall into place.
Against Salernitana, Lazio fielded the same starting side for the second consecutive league game for the first time since April.
The coach’s earlier claims that Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto can’t function together are already long forgotten, while the understanding between the front three seems to improve every week.
Ciro Immobile – crowned Lazio’s all-time top scorer last week – is already on 10 league goals for a sixth consecutive Serie A season, and any questions about his ability to adapt to a trident attack have also been set aside long ago.
Momentum is on Sarri’s side now, and he has a chance to upset the apple cart when Serie A resumes after the break.
One of Lazio’s strengths this season has been their performances in big games – beating Roma and Inter already – and their first two league games after international duty are against Juventus and Napoli.
That double-header, with a European test against Lokomotiv Moscow in Russia thrown in between, will be a true test of just how far along this team has already come in its development.