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Will a chaotic week topple Lazio season?

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By Alasdair Mackenzie

Tuesday 28 February 2012

A chaotic week in the capital has seen all the cracks in this season’s Lazio side emerge simultaneously. The club’s poor management has been endlessly discussed, with club president Claudio Lotito and Director of Sport Igli Tare provoking constant outrage from laziale. Their most recent crimes have been the dismal January mercato in which the transfer of Keisuke Honda failed at the last moment, the subsequent arrival of the unpopular Antonio Candreva, not to mention the inability to attract a shirt sponsor for the fourth consecutive season.

The failure to bring in fresh faces in January was always going to have an effect on the season, but the biancoceleste fought off their doubters with an impressive 2-0 victory over reigning champions AC Milan followed by an incredible 10-man comeback to recover from two goals down to defeat Cesena. However, since then the poor quality of depth within the Lazio ranks has become evident as a crippling injury crisis settled in.

Yet the 5-1 defeat to Palermo last weekend isn’t, as many have assumed, a sign of what to expect from Lazio for the rest of the season. With only one half-fit defender in Andre Dias, a back three was completed by midfielder Cristian Ledesma and 35 year-old wing back Luciano Zauri. Playing in an unfamiliar formation with a stretched squad was always going to go badly away to Palermo, who are second only to Udinese in the home form table.

However, what has followed has been more worrying. The injury crisis will eventually recover and this squad has shown enough character over the season to suggest they are still genuine top three contenders. Yet problems within the management of the squad are again threatening to topple a promising campaign. On Wednesday Edy Reja offered his resignation to Lotito, which was refused. Over the following few days, all sorts of names were linked with the Lazio job, with Gianfranco Zola even sighted at Formello. The trip to Madrid to oversee the Aquile’s Europa League exit seemed to be Reja’s last night on the bench. But there was another twist, as Uncle Edy was convinced to stay on until the end of the season.

One thing is clear though, that the relationship between Reja and Lotito has broken down. The two were reportedly unable to even hold their meetings face to face, although admittedly it is difficult to filter the truth from the rumours in this kind of Serie A soap opera. It is unlikely Reja will remain on the Lazio bench after this season, a fact that could potentially attract an unwanted feeling of discontent in the dressing room as tensions run high between the squad and the management.

At this point it is worth mentioning the potential ‘silver lining’ of this mess. There are several encouraging factors that have been ignored by most pundits who are happy to kick Lazio while they are down. The most significant is that there has not been such a sense of unity between the tifosi and the squad all season, as Reja’s name was greeted by a standing applause before last night’s win over Fiorentina. Lazio’s brand of football may not be the easiest on the eye, but their ability to win games when not on top form is something Roma and Inter could learn from and a five point gap between fourth and fifth puts the biancoceleste in a healthy league position ahead of next week’s Derby della Capitale. The return of captain Stefano Mauri aids problems of creativity in the centre of the park, the defence is likely to return to full strength soon, and the Europa League exit allows complete focus on a top three finish.

Last night’s 1-0 victory over Fiorentina was a perfect example of why it would be foolish to rule out Lazio at this point. In the midst of chaos surrounding the manager as well as an injury crisis, the team rallied to a hard fought victory, and an important three points going into derby week. Just as the eagle’s wing seems broken, he rises to fly again.

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