Ahead of Inter’s marquee Sunday clash with Lazio, we thought it would be a good idea to check in with Lazio and Serie A expert Jerry Mancini to see how the Biancocelesti is faring in this wild 2020/21 season. You can follow Jerry on Twitter here, or check out his work on The Laziali, World Football Index, and Breaking The Lines.
Q: Lazio is in the Champions League Round of 16 and 5th in Serie A. What are the goals in each of those tournaments in the second half of the season?
A: It has been a rollercoaster season for Lazio where they have shown great form in the Champions League and the complete opposite in Serie A. In recent time, they have moved up to fifth place due to their strong play and the goal should be to finish in a top-four spot in Serie A. It’s time for Lazio to turn the corner and prove that they could qualify for the Champions League on a consistent basis. With the quality they have in their lineup with players such as Ciro Immobile, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Francesco Acerbi, there’s no reason why they can’t compete.
As for the Champions League, their goal was achieved when they advanced out of the group stage. Anything from here on out will be a bonus to this club. They play the defending champions, Bayern Munich, who will be a very difficult opponent. I think this team could surprise many and upset the Bundesliga side with how they’ve been playing in recent weeks. When the match-ups were announced from the draw, Lazio had poor form and was struggling for consistency. Fast-forward and that’s no longer an issue. Bayern should be on alert as they’re about to play a side who has looked really good in the Champions League and have managed to defeat Borussia Dortmund.
Q: Claudio Lotito is well known for lack of spending, but he seemed to open the checkbook more than usual this past summer with several additions to the squad. How have the new signings fared?
A: It has been a slow start for the new additions as a few arrived late from the transfer market. Vedat Muriqi was the biggest signing this past summer cost nearly 20 million Euros and is starting to show good form. It has been a slow start as when he arrived, he had Covid-19 along with two separate injuries this season.
Andreas Pereira arrived on loan from Manchester United and has looked good when’s he appeared in the lineup. His original purpose was to be a back-up to Alberto but that hasn’t been the case as he’s been used more as a false nine.
Wesley Hoedt has stepped-up this year, providing some depth in the backend. He put forth some strong performances in the Champions League and played a key role when many players were out due to injuries and illnesses. Although he had a poor performance versus Atalanta in the Coppa Italia, overall, he’s been much better compared to his first stint with the club a few seasons ago.
Gonzalo Escalante arrived from La Liga side, SD Eibar, and has been one of the best signings. He has proven to be a capable back-up to Lucas Leiva, which is encouraging as he’s not the same player he was in past seasons. He started to age and slow down so having a player such as Escalante, who’s shown the ability to make strong challenges, be decisive and control the midfield, has been reassuring.
Mohammed Fares arrived from SPAL and was Lazio’s second-highest transfer signing. It’s been a slow start for him where he has often been injured and has struggled to show good form. He’s been in and out of the lineup and is looking a step behind in his pace. He joined in hopes of being Senad Lulic’s replacement for the foreseeable future but that hasn’t been the case.
Lastly, the arrival of Lazio goalkeeper, Pepe Reina has been one of the best signings of the season. In past years, Thomas Strakosha was used a lot with Lazio not having a strong back-up. Silvio Proto rarely made an appearance. Strakosha has missed many games this season due to injuries and illnesses, leaving Reina to play the bulk of the matches. His performances have earned him the starting role and, rightfully so, as he’s provided good leadership and a voice for the defense. He’s won them many matches this season with key saves and great presence.
Overall, a decent summer transfer market it was for Lazio.
Q: What are Lazio’s biggest strengths that Inter should look out for?
A: Come this weekend, one of Lazio’s strengths that Inter should look-out for is their dominance in the midfield. Milinkovic-Savic has been in great form in recent times, where he has scored and assisted in winning and tying goals. He’s been physical, is playing with confidence and has made strong tackles. While Luis Alberto was out in January, Milinkovic-Savic stepped-up. He makes it hard for Inter to defend him in the box with his physical play and height advantage. In recent seasons, he has performed well against Inter as he has three goals in the past four matches.
Acerbi has been stellar in the backend and is having another superb season. He has been the anchor of the defense. His ability to send long balls up-field have really worked well this season. He’s been a facilitator in Lazio’s offense as he’s not scared to take risks and be involved in the attack. I could see him trying to catch Inter on the counter-attack and advance the ball upfield to set-up some chances.
Lastly, Immobile has been on fire this season. He is in great form this year, where he has scored seven game-winners for the Biancocelesti. He has eight goals in the past ten Serie A matches and has contributed two assists during that span as well. He has been a great leader for Lazio this season, taking over the captain’s armband, and has led by example. He will look to continue his stride against a strong Inter defense.
Q: And on the other hand, where do Lazio struggle?
A: What concerns me is the right centre back. Lazio manager, Simone Inzaghi, hasn’t decided between Patric and Mateo Musacchio. I appreciate the attitude and hard work which Patric brings to Lazio but he’s at a massive disadvantage versus either Lautaro Martinez or Ivan Perisic. I feel any of these players will pose a problem on his side as they will be hard to maintain and will draw him in to take a yellow card. I would prefer to see Musacchio, who looked good in his first start against Cagliari after arriving in the January transfer window from AC Milan.
I’m curious to see how Stefan Radu manages to defend Achraf Hakimi as Radu is clearly at a disadvantage due to his speed. The Lazio defender has looked much better in recent weeks and is in great form but Hakimi has posed a problem on some of the best defenders this season. This will be a tough matchup and one which Inter will look to take advantage of.
Q: What’s your prediction for Sunday? How do you see the game flowing?
A: I see Lazio winning 2-1 in added time from Milkinovic-Savic. Immobile will add the second while Romelu Lukaku will score the lone goal for Inter. I see a match where both sides will be conservative in the early goings yet as the game progresses it will start to open-up with chances from both ends. It will be an entertaining match where I’m not confident in my prediction as it could go either way.
Thanks to Jerry for stopping by!