Lazio waving goodbye to Europe?
When the final whistle sounded at the Stadio Friuli last Sunday, Lazio’s players were – justifiably – furious at witnessing Udinese net their second goal through Roberto Pereyra. Lazio obliged to the childhood mantra of ‘play to the whistle’ but unfortunately the chimes originated from the crowd and not referee Mauro Bergonzi. Yet their frustrations and reactions – costing a €20,000 fine - in the immediate aftermath smacked of a desperate side feeling its season slip away.
During a surprise first half of the campaign Lazio were a frontrunner and just two losses had Laziali dreaming of Europe’s premier club competition. Since Christmas Edy Reja’s men have succumbed to defeat ten times in 20 matches, a barren spell culminating in a mere two points from their last five matches.
In early March Lazio sat third, six points from the lead. Now, as Juve and Milan pull away on 78 and 77 points respectively, Lazio and their fellow Champions League competitors - who have also flattered to deceive at one point - trail 20 points behind. When opportunities were presented Reja’s men lacked the opportunism to capitalise, such as after overpowering Napoli – their last victory to date – nor could they pull away from an Udinese side which won once in nine prior to Sunday.
The 2-0 defeat in Udine saw Andre Dias sent off for taking his protests too far and Federico Marchetti banned for pushing Bergonzi. Both will miss the final fortnight and amid a slew of injury concerns – seven players missed the draw with Siena on Wednesday through injury – Reja could hardly afford this show of indiscipline. Against Palermo in February the capital club fielded a makeshift backline and were hammered 5-1.
The tactician complained after the March loss to Bologna he was forced to field a constant XI due to injury and thus suspended players do not help the cause. Lazio’s lack of discretion has resulted in a tally of nine red cards – all accumulated since their January defeat at Siena – which is second only to Roma and Cesena, both on ten.
Following that home reverse to Bologna Reja stated it would be a miracle for Lazio to finish third due to the calibre of their opponents. But he need look no further than his own dressing room to see root of their destruction. Lazio have either dropped valuable points late against Catania, Juve and Lecce, or by losing to relegation troubled Novara. Where their road form was the best in Serie A before Christmas, they have not won away from the Stadio Olimpico (except against Roma in the designated ‘away’ Derby) since January 29th versus Chievo.
Reja stressed Lazio “is not dead yet” but with only two matches remaining the dream of the Champions League anthem appears but a distant echo. Even its consolation cousin the Europa League is no certainty. Sitting fifth - two points from third place - Lazio complete their rocky journey against mid-table Atalanta (away) and Inter (home). It will require a final effort from a side on its last legs and lacking the quality of Miroslav Klose and Hernanes. They cannot rely on their lucky eagle Olimpia, but need the captain Tommaso Rocchi, Cristian Ledesma and Stefano Mauri to fire.
With such a close finish, head-to-head records could decide the outcome of third place and Lazio enjoy the advantage over Napoli and Roma, but not Udinese, whilst they will need to overcome a one goal deficit against the Nerazzurri. Still in the running but stumbling towards the line, it is looking more likely they will need the miracle Reja claimed.