Serie A Season Preview: Lazio

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Serie A Season Preview: Lazio

Post  dicanio_michael on Wed Aug 27, 2008 11:59 pm

Hope and expectation was high for Lazio going into last season, following a wonderful 2006/07 campaign when they had finished third in Serie A, and had qualified for the Champions League.

Supporters began to dream that the good times, which had preceded the Sergio Cragnotti financial meltdown earlier in the decade, may return. However, all these dreams were soon dashed as the Biancocelesti embarked on a truly miserable campaign, where at one point relegation appeared a real possibility.

Blunders in the transfer market saw the 43-year-old ‘Grandad’ Marco Ballotta, and young rookie signing Nestor Muslera fight it out, not only for the goalkeeping gloves but also to see who could hand the opposition more goals.

The defence suffered all season long, with Guglielmo Stendardo, who had been excellent the previous campaign, demanding a loan transfer mid-season to Juventus. All in all the Romans let in a whopping 51 goals in Serie A.

President Claudio Lotito, already detested by the majority of Lazio fans, was attacked on numerous occasions, but vowed to stay on.

All in all there were few bright spots. Lazio finished 12th in Serie A, and only managed this after a late flourish which moved them away from the relegation zone. Their Champions League journey was a disaster also, as they limped through fortuitously to the group stages, before then finishing bottom and crashing out of Europe all together.

Their one hope of redemption was the Coppa Italia, but a semi-final exit to Inter means there will be no European football for Lazio in 2008/09.

Summer Activity

Claudio Lotito has long been criticized for keeping his pennies in his pockets, but this summer the President cannot be criticized on the transfer front.

The Biancocelesti are undoubtedly stronger this time around, despite the loss of Valon Behrami (West Ham), Luciano Zauri (Fiorentina), Gaby Mudingayi (Bologna) and Rolando Bianchi (end of loan spell).

Goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo has finally arrived from River Plate, a year after he was supposed to join, and the Argentine, who is rated as one of South America’s best shot-stoppers will finally solve the Ballotta/Muslera problem from last season.

Another Argentine, Mauro Zarate, is the most eye-catching purchase of the summer for Lazio. Arriving on-loan from Al-Sadd, the 21-year-old forward has the ability and potential to be a big star, and he has even been likened by some to Barcelona magician Lionel Messi.

An underrated recruit is Pasquale Foggia, who returns after his loan spell at Cagliari ended. The Italy international also possesses undoubted quality, and played a key role in saving the Sicilians from relegation last season.

The Brazilian, Matuzalem, has entered into the Olimpico on loan from relegated La Liga outfit Real Zaragoza, and will provide extra depth in the midfield. Stephan Lichtsteiner will do the same in the defensive department after his move from French side Lille.

Stendardo has returned after his six-month loan spell at Juventus expired, but it is highly likely he will be sold or loaned out again due to his spat with the club’s management. Another high profile player who could leave before the end of the transfer window is Christian Ledesma, following a contract dispute.

Analysis and Prognosis

As stated above, Lazio are definitely an improved outfit this time around, and qualification for the UEFA Cup is a real possibility if things go their way.

The Biancocelesti’s forward line is one of the most formidable in the league. The under-rated Tommaso Rocchi and the Macedonian Goran Pandev have struck up a telepathic partnership in recent seasons, and this year they have been joined by the wonderfully gifted Zarate. This trio, when on song, can cause any defence in Serie A problems.

The supply line should also be good, as there is creativity and inventiveness in midfield from the likes of Foggia, Matuzalem and Ledesma, even if there is a question mark over the latter’s state of mind due to his well-document disagreement with the club.

A serious weakness though is in defence, where Lazio lack any stand-out performers, even if the Romanian Stefan Radu has shined since his January arrival, and could prove to be a star in the future. In this department much will depend on how Radu, and other promising youngsters such as Lorenzo De Silvestri perform. However, the likes of David Rozenhal and Emilson Cribari, despite being as honest and committed as they come, are likely to struggle against really top-class attacks.

Another issue will be morale. President Lotito is not the most popular figure, and so if Lazio have a poor start to the season, fans could soon make the Olimpico environment unbearable. There are also question marks over the spirits in the dressing room, following a number of outspoken tirades this summer from the likes of Ledesma, Pandev, and squad player Roberto Baronio. Lazio never appears to be the happiest camp around, and so this could have a detrimental effect on the team.

All in all, Lazio will certainly do much better than they did last year, and they should fight it out with the likes of Napoli, Sampdoria and Udinese for the last two UEFA Cup slots.

Coach: Delio Rossi

Stadium: Stadio Olimpico (84,000)

2007/08 Position: 12th

2007/08 Record: P-38 W-11 D-13 L-14 GF-47 GA-51 Pts-46

Players In: Carrizo (River Plate), Stendardo (Juventus), Foggia (Cagliari), Zarate (Al-Sadd), Matuzalem (Real Zaragoza), Lichtsteiner (Lille)

Players Out: Bianchi (Manchester City), Mudingayi (Bologna), Zauri (Fiorentina), Behrami (West Ham), Ballotta (Retired), Vignaroli (Panathinaikos)

Possible-Line-Up: Carrizo, Rozenhal, Cribari, Radu, De Silvestri, Ledesma, Matuzalem, Kolarov, Zarate, Pandev; Rocchi

dicanio_michael

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