Juventus look to bounce back from their Coppa Italia exit at the hands of Roma during the week when they travel to Lazio this weekend. Currently eight points clear of Lazio’s city-rivals Roma, Juventus can extend their Serie A winning run to 13 games with a win and are clear favourites to inflict an eighth league defeat of the season upon mid-table Lazio. Squawka preview the action with a look at the men to watch on both sides of the contest.
If Lazio are to upset the odds, then they will have to do what few teams have done this season and work out a successful way to deal with Juventus’s midfield duo of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba. Lazio know first-hand the damage that the pair can inflict, having been on the end of a 4-1 scoreline in the return fixture that was largely inspired by Vidal.
Vidal scored two goals—one of which was assisted by Pogba—and set up a third when the two sides met in August, as well as contributing six tackles in an all-action performance. Proving that it is still possible to be a box-to-box midfield player in an age where many have become specialists, Vidal’s contribution to Juventus’s season as a whole has been huge.
A force to be reckoned with at both ends of the pitch, Vidal has won a colossal 65 tackles this season. The highest of any Juventus player this season, it is over double the 31 made by Lazio’s most frequent tackler, Lucas Biglia.
Just one league goal behind the club’s top scorer Carlos Tevez, Vidal is also shouldering the goalscoring burden from midfield. He has 10 goals this season—as many as he managed in the entirety of last season—and has also provided five assists, meaning that he has scored or assisted 30 percent of the club’s league goals.
And it isn’t as if Lazio just have Vidal to concentrate their midfield efforts on. Pogba has also enjoyed the season of his life next to Vidal, whilst the pair have the luxury of playing in front of the evergreen Andrea Pirlo.
Pogba’s physicality has meant that he has formed an intimidating partnership with Vidal across the pitch. The Frenchman has six goals and four assists, but has also registered 41 tackles and 43 victories in contested headed duels.
Between them Pogba and Vidal have created 99 chances this season. This impressive tally reflects the creative disparities between the two sides, that have seen Lazio create just 69 percent of the number of chances that their Turin counterparts have.
Of the 194 chances that Lazio have created this season, 36 have come from the man who is likely to be key to their ambitions of avenging August’s defeat. Linked to Liverpool in recent weeks, Antonio Candreva has made more chances than any other Lazio player and has also played more passes than all of his teammates bar one.
Of the 36 chances that he has created four have led to goals, whilst he is also the side’s joint-highest league scorer with five goals. As a team, Lazio have scored just 26 goals this season and, in tandem with an average goals-conceded rate of 1.4 per game, a lack of goals has been a key reason behind their mid-table position this season.
Candreva has either scored or assisted 35 percent of their Serie A strikes this season and is likely to again prove crucial to their hopes this weekend.
Deployed across a number of positions this season, Candreva has been playing on the right-hand side of midfield in recent weeks. However, he experienced joy against Juventus in the first meeting between the sides by playing a free role behind a lone striker.
The heat map from that game shows that he had licence to drift across the pitch and Lazio coach Edoardo Reja could be tempted to spring a tactical surprise and allow him to do so again.
Despite his team losing 4-1, Candreva provided five chance-creating key passes over the course of the game. He has yet to replicate such a high chance-creation rate across a single game since that game in Turin and would provide a timely boost to Lazio’s hopes should he create at a similar rate this time around.
Candreva possesses the ability to take multiple players out of the game in a single run due to his skill with the ball. He has gone past his man on 56 occasions this season, the third-highest number in the league. In a game that Lazio are likely to be on the back foot for much of, Candreva’s running with the ball could provide respite and opportunity on the break, whilst his knack of being fouled could provide them with an opportunity to add to the seven set-piece goals that they have netted this season.
Lazio can draw some comfort from their home record. Whilst they have struggled away from home with just one away win from 11 attempts, their home record is impressive. They have six wins from nine home fixtures and just 29 percent of the goals that they have conceded have come at the Stadio Olimpico.
However, they come up against a Juventus side that come into the game on the back of five consecutive away wins and are looking to extend their eight-point lead at the top of the table. The league leaders are hot favourites to bounce back from their midweek defeat at the hands of Roma and have already shown how their midfield can overwhelm Lazio.
Should the mid-table side have any hope of upsetting the formbook then the talismanic Candreva is likely to provide their best hope, but they must also hope for big performances from the likes of Hernanes and Lucas Biglia in midfield if they are to successfully stifle the midfield machine that has stormed Serie A.