After a humiliating defeat in front of a home crowd in the recent Supercoppa, Round 2 of the new Serie A season saw Vladimir Petkovic's Lazio face Juventus for the second time in as many weeks, this time in Turin.
The Biancoceleste had a point to prove, because regardless of the opposition, 4-0 defeats don't go down well with football fans in the Italian capital. Goals from Paul Pogba, Giorgio Chiellini, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Carlos Tevez had heaped early-season misery on Lazio, and this game was their shot at redemption.
Draw, and they could hold their heads up high. Stalemate with the reigning champions on their own turf is no easy thing to achieve.
Win, and a giant measure of confidence would be returned to the dressing room and to the fans who could relish a perfect start to the league campaign.
Lazio managed neither. On the way back to Rome they will be asking themselves some hard questions. Another annihilation at the hands of Juventus, and plenty of faults to pick at.
Last season, they were—at one point, at least—considered genuine challengers for the title. Now, they look like mid-table fodder for the big guns. What's gone wrong?
It can be put down to "second season syndrome," perhaps, for Petkovic. But the reality is that the Swiss-Bosnian was always going to struggle long-term in Serie A with only one tactic. Lazio's negative, often cynical, style of play frustrated the league's best last term, but now they've found a way around it.
The Aqulie's squad isn't lacking in talent or experience and should be expected to perform. An away trip to Juventus is always a big ask, but the nature of their two consecutive defeats to the Old Lady paint the Romans in a much poorer light than they—on paper—deserve.
The obvious problem for Lazio is that when you've only got one plan—and it's a physical, borderline violent one—and the wheels come off, the result can be disastrous. Both meetings with Conte's men have proved as much.
Brutish tackling and simulation can be an effective way to stifle a game and dictate its course, but when you're losing badly, it just looks pathetic.
For their part, Juventus still look like they can improve. The midfield was impressive throughout, but the team was guilty of letting a very poor opponent into the game for long periods and even allowing them to have more shots on goal. Conte's side can't afford to be so frivolous against better opposition.
Key player grades
Arturo Vidal: A
Vidal is certainly one of the top midfielders in Serie A. More than that, he's also inarguably one of the best in Europe.
Against Lazio, he was flawless. Full of energy and intent, he contributed to the overall team effort and was at hand to take advantage of individual opportunities as well. Both of his goals were expertly scored and justly deserved.
What makes Vidal really great, however, is something more than his talent or his energetic style of play. It's the fact that he wastes almost nothing.
Whether it's a ball in the middle of the park or an opportunity to slot one past the keeper in a one-to-one, the Chilean is wonderfully economical. And his frugality in front of goal could embarrass more than a few strikers.
Paul Pogba: A
There are passes over the top, and then there are passes over the top. Pogba's wonderfully weighted lob over the sleeping Lazio defence found Vidal in the perfect position to score the first.
The 20-year-old was sublime against Lazio, putting in a performance that was as gritty and hard-working as it was elegant and entertaining.
The Frenchman is a natural choice for the starting XI for the next few games because Claudio Marchisio is injured. Many saw it as a chance for Pogba to impress and put himself in the shop window for more game time later in the season.
After this performance, however, it will be the Italian who is more worried about his playing opportunities.
Leonardo Bonucci: A
Two assists is never a bad return for a player at the highest level.
But from a defender?
Bonucci's pair of perfectly judged passes that set up Vidal for the second goal and Mirko Vucinic for the third were exemplary, as was most of his defensive play. His yellow card was also harsh. The defender had a very good game.
A player this good should not have to resort to negative tactics and jaundiced tackling. Hernanes got off to a good start, testing Buffon in the opening minutes and generally looking lively.
Before long, unfortunately, he sank into the kind of simulation antics and violent tackles that he's become known for at Lazio.
The Brazilian can match anyone for ability, which is what makes his often hostile attitude so glaringly obvious and infuriatingly confusing. His rocket of a shot just before the half-hour mark was parried by Buffon—but rebounded and allowed Miroslav Klose to claw one back for the visitors. More efforts like that, and Lazio were in with a chance.
Instead, Hernanes resorted to repeated harsh challenges and generally disruptive play. By the time he handled the ball in the Juve box for his second yellow, he was living on borrowed time.
His dismissal didn't cost Lazio the game—it was probably lost beforehand—but his negative attitude might have.
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