After years of Serie A dominance – at times a very one-sided pursuit by a relentless and clinical Juventus (despite a few spirited attempts by Napoli to run them close) – some say the 2019/20 campaign has been a breath of fresh air for the Italian top-flight.
They believe Juventus, big-spending Inter Milan and Lazio have recreated Football Italia’s golden age in the best title race throughout Europe.
Yet what many people forgot is that while Inter invested heavily in a bid to bring to an end the ‘old lady’ of Turin’s eight straight years of title glory, Lazio have gone about their business more quietly and for just a fraction of the cost.
And when the season was halted last month due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it was them who sat just one point behind the leaders and reigning champions, whereas Inter were in third place nine points off the pace.
That the Aquile have now beaten Juventus and Inter in Serie A highlights this term and briefly went top a month ago, underlines that their threat is a genuine one and they are inarguably Scudetto challengers, defying the SBOTOP Serie A predictions.
Perhaps this could have been predicted given they claimed the Coppa Italia last season. Yet, at the same time, they finished in eighth place in the table, a staggering 31 points behind Juve.
On the eve of the big kick-off, I didn’t name a single Lazio employee in my top 10 players to watch out for – how wrong was I!
The man at the helm, Simone Inzaghi, is celebrating his birthday this weekend.
The coach has also celebrated the fourth anniversary of taking the job this week, during which he has also won the Italian Super Cup twice.
To emphasise his progress, the club has reportedly scheduled a meeting to offer the Italian a new contract, as the coach has caught the eye of several big clubs, rumoured to include Juventus and PSG.
As he turns 44 with a contract which only runs until June next year, it’s understandable Lazio chiefs want to discuss a new deal with the tactician. It’s claimed this would include a bump in salary to €3million per season until June 2025.
What’s more, Inzaghi has done things his way.
Lazio President Claudio Lotito has claimed several times that his club have scaled the heights without a single euro of his own money put into the club.
They have certainly never signed a player for more than €20million since Lotito’s arrival. Instead, director of sport Igli Tare identified older pros with considerable gas still left in the tank (Miroslav Klose, Lucas Leiva) combined with young players that can be developed with a view to selling them on (Felipe Anderson, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Keita Balde Diao, Stefan De Vrij).
This long-game approach, whilst frustrating in the beginning, now appears to be bearing fruit.
The stars are led by Ciro Immobile who has scored a staggering 27 Serie A goals this term in 26 matches and is currently six clear of his nearest rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, in the scoring charts.
The attacker has never quite captured the imagination at international level and has struggled outside of Italy, but his quality and confidence in the Italian top-flight knows no bounds.
Indeed, Immobile is well on course to match, or even break, the current record of goals scored in a single Serie A season, achieved by Gonzalo Higuain with Napoli in 2015/16. The Argentine scored 36 goals to win the Capocannoniere and matched the feat only achieved once before by Gino Rossetti in 1929.
It’s far from a one-man team though.
The Biancocelesti currently boast the best goal difference in the division, with only Atalanta having scored more, and also boasts the best defensive record.
There is a wealth of talent running through their team with notable mentions for Luis Alberto, Milinkovic-Savic, Felipe Caicedo and Joaquín Correa, among others.
Yes, the squad probably needs strengthening, but the foundations are there and they are a real threat, make no mistake.
If Serie A does resume on May 20 (as officials hope), the plan would be to conclude the season on July 2.
Could Lazio really do the unthinkable and be crowned champions for the first time since the turn of the new millennium when Juan Veron, Alessandro Nesta Diego Simeone, Sérgio Conceição, Pavel Nedvedand, yes, Simone Inzaghi were among the stars under the management of Sven-Goran Eriksson.
To lead the club to what he was also instrumental in achieving as a player two decades ago would surely be the icing on the cake.
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