Lazio: Europa League Loss to Fenerbahce Heaps More Woes on Vladimir Petkovic

Colin O'BrienContributor IApril 5, 2013

TURIN, ITALY - MARCH 17:  S.S. Lazio head coach Vladimir Petkovic looks on prior to the Serie A match between Torino FC and S.S. Lazio at Stadio Olimpico di Torino on March 17, 2013 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

So were the doubters right all along? Vladimir Petkovic looked like he'd proved his critics wrong at Lazio, but a run of shocking form at home coupled with a loss to Fenerbahce in the Europa League leaves the Aquile on the precipice of complete collapse. 

Petkovic's summer appointment to the Lazio bench was certainly a surprise. Many questioned the rationality of entrusting such a high-profile position to a manager with little experience outside of European football's periphery. 

Though not one of Italy's most successful clubs, Lazio are certainly among Serie A's highest-profile teams, and common wisdom stated that it deserved a man of experience and some international standing. 

With Petkovic, Lazio president Claudio Lotito chose a less obvious option. Though well-travelled both as a player and a coach, the Bosnian had never made it to the higher reaches of the game. And until he took over at Young Boys in 2008, he juggled his managerial career with another, at the Christian charity Caritas. 

Taking over at the Stadio Olimpico was a step up, to say the least. Right from the start, however, the confident and calm Petkovic set about proving himself worthy.

Straight out of the gates, his little-fancied Lazio showed themselves to be serious contenders, winning seven of their first 10 games and keeping pace with Juventus at the top of the table. 

At the start of the new year, things were going well in the league, the Coppa Italia and the Europa League, and the hitherto unknown manager from Switzerland was suddenly heralded as the find of the season in European football. He'd transformed a ragged-looking Lazio side left by Edy Reja into genuine contenders for silverware. Great things were to come. 

Fast forward to Thursday night in Istanbul's Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, and the picture couldn't be more different. 

Lazio had just collapsed under the pressure of Fenerbahce's assault, going down to 10 men and conceding twice. It was their whole season in microcosm. 

Petkovic's side had the better start, dominating the early possession and pace of the game. It was a good team effort and one that was lifted by several impressive individual moments.

But as the game developed, their opponents seemed to adapt well to the Aquile's obvious, straightforward tactics and eventually the Turkish side established themselves.

Disrupting Lazio's play, Fenerbahce became dominant. Lazio were unable to adapt and were left to rue the fact that they'd not made more of earlier chances—a weakness that's dogged them all season.

Were it not thanks to Federico Marchetti and the wood work, the scoreline would have been a lot worse, and after Ogenyi Onazi's sending off the visitors stood no chance. 

The game highlighted something that's been bothering observers all season: Lazio have no plan B. Petkovic has created a solid unit that performs well when allowed to dictate a game's tempo and play to their own strengths, but his Lazio falls apart when on the back foot.

Coupled to that, there's not enough quality throughout the squad to compete on three different fronts across a whole season. Lazio's starting 11 has plenty of talent, but when a key member like Miroslav Klose or Hernanes is missing through injury or suspension, the loss is immediately apparent.

The veteran German striker is the only member of the Lazio team to score than eight goals—and he's only on 10. Put another way, Napoli's Edinson Cavani and Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy have scored more goals than the whole Lazio squad put together.  

They started this Serie A season well, but Lazio have now only won twice since mid-January and have lost six. They were trashed by minnows Siena and saw their good work overturned in the return legs of clashes with Milan and Fiorentina, both of whom they'd beat convincingly before the winter break. 

Up next, the small matter of the Rome derby followed by Juventus. It's not inconceivable that, after being touted as possible Scudetto contenders a few months back, Lazio could soon find themselves languishing in mid-table with no hope of returning to the European qualification spots. 

It's a tough end to the season for the Biancocelesti, as they face not only Inter but also solid outfits like Sampdoria and Bologna in the closing stages of the season. Lotito's gamble is once again being questioned. 

It might be that Petkovic has simply asked too much of his players. Challenging in the league, reaching the domestic cup final and competing in Europe is a balancing act that has troubled much bigger, more expensive set-ups in the past and Lazio could just be out of steam. Not that it should come as a surprise. The manager made his methods clear very early on.

“I always expect more from people and that includes myself," he told the press when he first came to Rome. "When we reach 100 percent, I’ll ask for 110 percent the day after.”

Lazio have been at 110 percent for too long now. There's only so long they can continue in the redline before something breaks.