Lazio an outside bet for Europe?
It is December 22nd 2013 and Lazio have just slumped to a 4-1 defeat to newly promoted Hellas Verona. Their then-coach Vladimir Petkovic was looking increasingly bewildered as the Roman outfit had won only one game in their last eight, in which they had conceded 14 and scored only eight.
Now at the end of January they remain unbeaten so far this year and are level on points with a Milan side that people believe can still qualify for Europe. There may not have been a revolution at the club but there has been a return to the constant, and that constant is Edy Reja.
Reja, now 68 years old, had retired after coaching Lazio last term. Thanks to the persuasive tongue of President Claudio Lotito he has decided to reacquaint himself with the club he loves to hate. The wily old fox of Italian Football has had a bizarre mix of success and despair at Lazio and almost ignored the call to return to the club.
Reja’s return has certainly brought a sense of stability back to the club and this familiarity added to his high-tempo approach and adaptable tactical outlook has spearheaded Lazio’s New Year campaign. They kicked off with a 1-0 home win against Inter, drew 0-0 away with Bologna, beat Udinese in a 2-3 thriller away before drawing at home 1-1 with champions Juventus. This newfound confidence has filtered through to some underperforming players and, mixed with his 3-4-2-1 formation, has brought immediate success.
This is not to say all is perfect within the camp at the moment as some difficult times may well lie ahead but with the ‘right wind’ could see the eagles soar. The fixture list proves relatively kind with a ‘home’ fixture in the derby against a dangerous Roma side and an away fixture in Florence proving to be the most testing.
The transfer deadline is nearly closed and although there have been rumours that their star man Hernanes is on his way out, these tall tales have been (for the moment) quashed by hard-balling Lotito. There is no secret that Le Aquile are desperate for a striker, but even if rumoured target Helder Postiga remains just an ink blot in some papers, it should not be ignored that Miroslav Klose’s return to form under Reja could also be a huge boost.
Can Lazio make it into Europe this season?
Europe for Lazio does now seem like a possibility as they sit only five points from fifth-placed Inter. There is, of course, a long way to go and their squad is not perfect, but which squad is? Exclude the form of Juventus and Roma and there are cracks in all the main teams. Whether Milan, Inter, Fiorentina or even Napoli, there could be questions about the coach, the board, injuries or strength in depth.
The difference for Lazio is that, although they too may suffer from some of these minor idiosyncrasies, they have created a stable environment for which to start their 2014 campaign and they are out of the blocks quickly. Resurgent they certainly are and, for the short term, they are dangerous.