With a visit to Bologna put on hold, Inter will be thrown right into the deep end to open 2022 against the only team to beat it in domestic play. Lazio’s 3-1 win over the Nerazzurri back in October was ripe with controversy and remains Inter’s sole defeat in Serie A. Luckily the animosity doesn’t extend beyond the pitch, so we were able to convene with Lazio expert Jerry Mancini without a problem. Jerry was kind enough to give us his thoughts on Lazio’s campaign so far and what to expect come Sunday. You can give him a follow on Twitter here.
Q: How would you grade the first half of Maurizio Sarri’s debut season? What have been the main takeaways so far?
A: I would give Lazio a 7/10 for the first half of the season. Lazio has shown positive signs where they move the ball well in transition, create several quality chances, and look threatening in the final third. Meanwhile, in other matches that attack disappears and they struggle versus clubs who play low block or have established a system over the years. An issue with this team is they struggle to remain consistent for more than two or three matches. It was an issue under Simone Inzaghi and continues to be a problem with Maurizio Sarri. In addition, the backend has been dreadful this season. This is an area that has been weak for several years and the club didn’t address this in the summer transfer market. Lazio needs to be active in the winter transfer market and should try to sign one or two players. The backline lacks depth and is not equipped to play in a back four. It has several issues which will lead to further problems as the season progresses if they neglect it.
Q: What does a successful second half of the campaign look like in Serie A and the Europa League? What are Lazio’s 2021/22 goals?
A successful second half to the season would have Lazio showing progress under Sarri. This season is a transition year where the players will need to adapt to his tactics. After five seasons under Inzaghi with his 3-5-2, switching to the 4-3-3 was going to be a challenge. In Serie A, finishing in the top six remains the goal. Qualifying for the Champions League will be difficult, but they must aim for at least the Europa League. As for the Europa League, they have a tough matchup versus Porto, a side who proved to be difficult versus Milan in the Champions League. It will a challenge to get by Porto but as long as Lazio puts forth a strong effort and keep the score close, I’d be satisfied. Most importantly, I’d like Lazio to be more consistent in the second half. Try to sustain some rhythm, build some confidence and get on a strong run. The goal is to grow under Sarri and get a better understanding of his tactics/style of play.
Q: What are Lazio’s biggest strengths? Who should Inter be worried about?
Lazio’s biggest strength has been their attack. Ciro Immobile, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Luis Alberto continue to be a threat in the final third. Immobile has settled in under Sarri and is proving he could be effective in the 4-3-3. He has fourteen goals in sixteen matches and is having an outstanding season. Milinkovic-Savic has seven goals and seven assists and has shown to be an effective midfielder under Sarri. Additionally, he has been successful versus Inter where he’s managed to score in four straight Serie A matches versus the Nerazzurri. Meanwhile, Alberto is a creative player who has the ability to make key passes and change the game around late into matches.
Q: What about Lazio’s weaknesses? Are you particularly concerned about any Inter players causing Lazio troubles?
A: Lazio’s backend is a massive concern as they have conceded 37 goals and earned two clean sheets in 20 Serie A matches. In their last match versus Empoli, they gifted three goals as they broke down quite easily in the backend. It’s been a combination of players struggling to play in a back four, not enough quality, and adjusting to new tactics. Francesco Acerbi picked up an injury versus Empoli and is expected to miss the match versus Inter. This is a massive loss for a backend that already has several issues. Stefan Radu should take his place and has performed well in recent times. Several players on Inter are a concern as they have plenty of quality and depth in their squad. Edin Dzeko has stepped up and filled the void of Romelu Lukaku while Hakan Calhanoglu has taken his game to another level under Inzaghi. Nicolo Barella is the player that concerns me the most as he is a difference-maker. When he’s off his game, Inter struggle but when he’s at his best Inter is their best as well.
Q: And finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday?
A: I predict that Inter will win 3-0. The last time these two teams played, the Nerazzurri had several players out. That is not the case this time around and they will be extra motivated due to the Felipe Anderson situation. Surely, they didn’t forget that. It will be an entertaining match.
A big thanks to Jerry for stopping by!