Lazio and Ludogorets Razgrad enjoy the spoils of advancing to the knockout portion of the Europa League with a two-leg affair against each other that begins Thursday in Rome.
Both of these sides advanced to this point with relative ease. Neither team suffered a loss in group play. Ludogorets especially grabbed attention as they only had one draw in their six games.
Lazio enter this contest on a two-match winless streak, and they looked particularly lifeless while losing 3-1 to Catania their last time on the pitch. Lazio has been up and down all year, and they are 10th in the Serie A table.
Ludogorets have been producing all year. They sit atop Bulgaria's Premier League and have had the stellar run this competition.
Here are the vitals to help catch the action as Lazio tries to flex some Serie A muscle and end Ludogorets' train of success.
When: Thursday, Feb. 20 at 3:05 p.m. ET/8:05 p.m. GMT
Where: Olympic Stadium, Rome, Italy
Key Storylines: Can Felipe Anderson make an impact for Lazio?
Felipe Anderson is having a hard time finding his way on Lazio. That isn't all that surprising. This is his first year with the club, and he is just 20 years old.
The midfielder has picked up 10 starts for Lazio across all competitions, and three of those have been in the Europa League. He scored one of his two goals for Lazio in Europa League play.
Youthful follies, like the one described below by Football Italia, have meant he is simply too raw to be relied upon, and they have not helped his confidence:
Felipe Anderson surged past three defenders, then tried a backheel for Keita. Not a good idea. #LazioTrabzonspor— footballitalia (@footballitalia) December 12, 2013
Now, he may not play Thursday, but it sounds to me like Lazio coach Edy Reja is anxious to get the youngster going. The veteran coach offered up these thoughts, via Football Italia, on the youngster: "He is lacking a bit of confidence. But during the week he shows the qualities he has. Now he has to take advantage of the chances he gets in matches. If he plays tomorrow we will also see his personality."
It will be interesting to see how Anderson responds to his coach's comments. The backing should boost his confidence, but at the same time, he must realize his opportunities to make his mark will dry up if he doesn't start producing.
Prediction: Lazio 3-1 Ludogrets
Lazio have proved they can lose to anyone. That said, after being knocked out of the Coppa Italia and with their opportunities to pick up some hardware this year resting on the Europa League, I see a top-flight effort forthcoming from Lazio.