Edy Reja needs a result. The veteran coach has just replaced Vladimir Petkovic on the Lazio bench, ending a poorly handled and confusing period for the capital club, which involved the 68-year-old taking training with the squad while Petkovic was still insisting that he was the manager.
The Aquile currently sit 10th in the table, 11 points off Inter, who occupy the final Europa League spot in fifth. The Romans have won their last three against Inter, and four of the last six, but it remains to be seen if Reja will have enough of an impact on his side to inspire them to a win over Mazzarri's Inter, who are hard to beat this term, having only lost once in their last 10.
The new man on the Lazio bench has been able to handle Mazzarri's tactics in the past, so it will be interesting to see what the Inter coach can do to get the upper hand.
The last time these two coaches met, in April 2012, Reja's Lazio beat Napoli 3-1 at the Olimpico. Then Mazzarri was without several key players and had to start with an unfamiliar—and uncomfortable—back four for defence.
Reja's high-tempo, direct approach proved too much for Mazzarri's tactics that time, and it's likely that Lazio will try a similar style in this clash because, much like themselves, Inter are leaky at the back. The Nerazzurri have conceded 21 times so far this season, five less than Lazio but still three times more than Roma and almost double what Juventus have let in.
The obvious battles to watch on the pitch will be at both ends. Lazio have been scoring, but no one player has really grabbed the responsibility for scoring and their top marksman, Antonio Candreva, has just four to his name.
More worrying is the fact that he's taken some 60 shots to find those four goals—more than double the attempts made by Inter's Rodrigo Palacio, who has 10 goals to his name. Candreva is dangerous, and Inter's defence has been far from exemplary under Mazzarri so far. But if he wants to fire Lazio to a win, the Roman will have to at least be on target—something that's far from a given.
Only Juve have scored more than Inter this season, so Lazio's back line are in for a hard time. Reja will be hoping for plenty of energy from his side and will desperately want to halt a slide that saw them win just two of their last 12 under Petkovic.
One player who will have a huge effect on that will be Esteban Cambiasso. The 33-year-old Argentine has been in vintage form under Mazzarri and the way he marshals the midfield and distributes the ball might make it difficult for Lazio to get a look-in. Ogenyi Onazi passes well and will be vital to Lazio's efforts to get forward, while Reja should look to lock down the centre and disrupt Inter's attack threats—not least Ricky Alvarez—with Lucas Biglia, his side's top tackler. Inter, for their part, will be hoping to keep Hernanes under wraps.
Off the pitch, the political battle between Petkovic and Lazio continues. The Bosnia-born Swiss coach is preparing to take legal action against the club for unfair dismissal, as his lawyer told Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia). As such, there's a real danger that if Reja can't bring immediate success, owner Claudio Lotito will end up looking very foolish. He has, after all, just fired the man who brought such memorable cup success to the Biancocelesti just last summer.
Getting rid of Petkoivc was a risky tactic—we'll have to wait and see if it pays off.