A visit to the Stadio Olimpico is always a big occasion, even more so when it comes after a long and dreary international break. It was only fitting for the marquee matchup of Matchday 8 to cross enemy lines and get an in-depth scouting report on Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio. Luckily, we didn’t have to look far for a biancocelesti expert. Jerry Mancini (well worth a follow on Twitter here), a writer on The Laziali and weekly contributor on this very site, was kind enough to answer five questions on the Aquile.
A big thanks to Jerry for his time and expertise!
Q: Lazio lost Simone Inzaghi and Joaquin Correa to Inter over the offseason. What’s the perspective on those moves from a Lazio viewpoint?
A: Losing Simone Inzaghi was more devastating compared to Joaquin Correa. Inzaghi has become fundamental with the club over the past twenty seasons, serving as player and manager. In the past five seasons as manager, he made Lazio relevant and competitive in the Serie A. He helped win a Coppa Italia, two Supercoppa Italianas, and Lazio returned to the Champions League after 13 seasons.
In addition to making Lazio competitive, he helped certain players turn their careers around and have play a vital role for this club. Ciro Immobile and Luis Alberto are two notable players who arrived at a time when they were struggling with form and he’s managed to get the most out of them in recent seasons. Inzaghi kept Lazio competitive and near the top of the table with a squad that had limited depth.
It’s never easy losing a player such as Correa yet the club made a significant fee for the Argentine. He was Lazio’s second-highest scorer behind Immobile and it’s never easy replacing that sort of production. Switching from the 3-5-2 to the 4-3-3 under Maurizio Sarri meant that he needed to adjust the way he played. Correa did become inconsistent last season as there was a significant drop-off in his performances. Replacing him will be difficult yet he wanted to leave and it’s not worth keeping a player who has no desire of staying.
Q: What are the early takeaways from Maurizio Sarri’s tenure? How does he have Lazio playing? Any players that have adapted especially well or disappointed?
It has been slow progress under Sarri for Lazio. They continue to adjust and become more familiar with his tactics and style of play. Switching from the 3-5-2 to the 4-3-3 was never going to be easy for the players. They spent the past five seasons under Inzaghi playing in the 3-5-2 and became molded to a certain way of playing.
It will take time for some players to adjust so there will be some inconsistency from Lazio. It has been an up and down season for the Biancocelesti who have shown signs of Sarriball and been very strong while in other performances they have been poor as their recent match versus Bologna.
Ciro Immobile has looked good under Sarri as the forward has six goals and two assists this season. He has been Lazio’s most effective player and has shown the ability to adjust under Sarri. Lazio’s midfield which has been their strength in past seasons has been a weakness. It’s taken Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic time to learn the movement, patterns, where they need to be and delivering those quick passes. In due time, I expect Lazio to show positive signs under Sarri, fans just need to remain patient.
Q: What are Lazio’s biggest strengths?
A: Although certain players have struggled in a new formation, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic remains to be a threat for Lazio. The Serbian has made the most progress in the midfield and has put forth a few good performances this season. In recent seasons, Milinkovic-Savic has stepped up for Lazio where he has four goals in the past five Serie A matches versus Inter.
In Lazio’s recent match versus Bologna, they were without Immobile and it was noticeable how much they missed their captain. The Biancocelesti lacked intensity, created very few chances and didn’t have that spark in their game. When Immobile is in the lineup, he gives Lazio a good chance of winning. He’s a difference-maker who has scored key goals and steps up in big moments. He is expected to return to the lineup and will be a massive boost as missing your captain is never easy to replace.
Q: On the flip side, what are their weaknesses?
A: The biggest weakness has been the backend. Adjusting from a back three to a back four will take this team some time. Adam Marusic and Manuel Lazzari have switched from wing-back to right-back. Lazio’s lead man in the back end, Francesco Acerbi, is having his worst season since joining back in July 2018. Elseid Hysaj played under Sarri at Napoli, so his transition has been smother compared to other players.
The midfield hasn’t been as effective this season, an area that has always been dominant for Lazio. They continue to learn the movements and patterns of how Sarri expects his players to play. Alberto has been far from the player that many are accustomed to seeing in recent seasons.
It will be interesting to see how Sarri approaches this match and if he decides to adjust and play to his players' strengths in this marquee match.
Q: How do you see Saturday’s clash playing out? What’s your score prediction and starting lineup for Lazio?
A: I see this being a close match. Lazio will be without Francesco Acerbi and should have Patric starting in his place. Many see this as a disadvantage for Lazio but I personally don’t as Patric has been good under Sarri this season. He’s played a simple game and has shown the ability to adjust under various managers. Acerbi could use a break with how he’s been playing recently.
Immobile is expected to return to the lineup while Mattia Zaccagni is fit and will be available for Lazio. A massive boost for Sarri. International duties will have an impact on Inter with Correa and Lautaro Martinez having to play on Thursday night and will arrive back late. In addition, they will be without Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez.
Lazio comes off a dreadful performance versus Bologna and I’m expecting a strong response from this team.
Prediction: Lazio 2-2 Inter
Lazio’s starting lineup (4-3-3): Pepe Reina – Elseid Hysaj, Patric, Luiz Felipe, Adam Marusic; Luis Alberto, Lucas Leiva, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic; Felipe Anderson, Ciro Immobile, Pedro