Almost all of Lazio’s goal output comes courtesy of Luis Alberto and Ciro Immobile. That’s no exaggeration: in four appearances this season Immobile has scored four times and added one assist; Alberto has three assists and one goal.
To stop Alberto means to stop Lazio. Below, is the write-up I did for my first Film Room Five of the season looking at Alberto’s ability to play at his own pace. Expect Conte to shadow Alberto on Wednesday night. Shut down the Spanish wizard, and Inter should be fairly comfortable defensively.
It’s always fun to watch a player turn a physically ingrained weakness into a tool. Nobody does that quite like Luis Alberto.
Alberto doesn’t have pace. He doesn’t have the springs to pogo stick by a defender and attack open space. He gets by with smarts and guile and a quick-twitch brain that lets him think a step or two ahead of everyone else.
He is kind of sort of agile. He can take two or three touches in the time you can take one or two steps. Alberto knows how to leverage that into an advantage. He’s a tease. You see the ball, you go for it, and by the time the brain has sent the signals to your legs, he’s nudged it just a little farther. In full-flight, it’s damn near impossible to stop. Alberto can break the lines, get his head up, and pick out runners attacking a fractured defence. The only other option: bring him down:
Alberto is the fulcrum of everything Lazio does in its build-up play. He is the guy who can slither through small nooks and unlock a tightly bound defence. He drifts from here to there, but always with a good understanding of his defensive responsibilities and how his position relates to the remaining geography of the pitch. He’s not a luxury number 10 shoved back a couple of spots doing his own thing. He knows that by moving the position X, his teammate will do Y, and the defence will counter with Z. He’s always bringing balance and order to an attack that can be frenetic and disjointed.
One of the highlights of Matchday one was watching Alberto pick Sampdoria apart. He finished the game with two assists and completed 94 percent of his passes.
Samp came into the game focusing on Alberto. Cut out long balls over the top, pin Alberto to one position in the middle of the field -- with bevy of defenders shuttling around him -- and you will stop Lazio, the theory goes.
Lazio have found a nice way of counterbalancing Alberto’s lack of burst by accentuating his vision and passing brilliance. Alberto is surrounded by a hoard of speedsters: Immobile, Correa, Milinkovic-Savic, Lulic, and Lazzari. They all play hard and run like hell.
(quick aside: Correa’s off-ball and on-ball vision has really gone to another level. He makes smart runs, knows when to attack space and back-up to create space, and has been better at finding runners at unusual angles. Correa is just a different player than his early days – young guys develop. Stunning.)
Lazio break quick and stun opponents. If you can’t enjoy Alberto leading the charge on a fast break, why even watch this thing?
Watch him nip the ball away, accelerate, then slow the tempo. That’s where he’s comfortable: sitting in the pockets between the lines while pacey players orbit all around.
Alberto holds the ball. He’s waiting for support. Immobile and Correa join the attack. Then, he did that thing. Did you catch it?
One touch to get it out your feat. Then, bang! Right? No!
Watch it again. Alberto takes an extra touch. An extra beat. The plays slides from R&B to jazz. The defender sticks his leg out to block a pass because that’s when Alberto is supposed to pass. But he doesn’t, not this little magician. He takes a touch, because why in the hell not?
It gave him a better sightline to squeeze the ball through to Correa who wrapped up the counter-attack.
When those destructive, fast breaks don’t work, however, Lazio rely on Alberto to pick the lock. He modulates the tempo. Demands the ball. And he’s always finding space:
Look how pissed he is that he didn’t get the ball first time. No bother. He shuffles into fresh space, spreading the lines vertically. Then he gathers the ball and moves the ball vertically between the lines again. It looks simple, but only because he makes it look simple. The best conductors always do.
That knee. That touch. That ball. That is spicy. Finding players who play at their own pace that aren’t out of place is a rare quality. Alberto has it.