Feature Photo: REUTERS/Alberto Lingria
The current Serie A season has lived up to expectations so far. Perhaps even better than expected, if you’ll like it. At this stage of the season, we would normally expect to see Juventus strolling in uncharted territory at the top of the league. After eight successive Scudetto wins, it must have become “boring” to see the Bianconeri win what has become something of a birthright in recent years.
However, the 2019-2020 season has not followed the script at all. Right from the start, Inter looked like they were ready to give Juventus a run till the end of the season. Fair enough, they have given the Bianconeri a tough run to date. What no one could have predicted though, is Lazio sitting comfortably at the summit at this stage of the season.
As it stands, the Biancocelesti sit two points clear of Juventus in second place and a respectable eight off Inter in third place. Though the two big guns have games in hand, it’s no longer a far claim to ask if Lazio can win the league. It’s a dream at the moment and everything seems to be playing in their hands that this dream can become reality come the final round of fixtures in May.
No Serie A season is complete without a defining moment and this season has followed that pattern once again. After a series of postponement of games in the country amidst the coronavirus crisis, a decision was finally made. All Serie A games will now be played behind closed doors until April 3 including the much-anticipated Derby d’Italia clash set to take place later today.
While this decision was basically a precautionary measure and rightly so, it might all play well in the hands of Lazio. At this point, the Biancocelesti can only focus on themselves but would hope for some luck or extra factors that could see the likes of Juve and Inter drop points. The latter can even come into play further with the latest developments in the league. This and many more reasons mean Lazio are currently at an advantage in the race for the Scudetto.
Calendar Changes Could Play in Favor of Lazio
The ongoing coronavirus threat has caused lots of disruptions in the Serie A. After series of games were initially postponed, all matches will now be played behind closed doors. As it stands, the current Serie A season might even be prolonged a week further just to accommodate the schedule that is under threat of becoming disorganized.
On closer look, we can’t help but notice how this could be a slight advantage for Lazio in the title race. Probably because we never expected them to be in the title discussions at this stage in the first place.
For Juventus, they still have distractions from other competitions and might face a potentially gruesome schedule in the weeks to come. The Bianconeri have the Lyon hurdle to overcome in the second leg of their Champions League tie and many are tipping Maurizio Sarri’s men to still progress further ahead of the French outfit. Not to forget that they still have a certain “Mr. Champions League” in their ranks.
In the event that Juve qualify to the next round, they’ll have the Serie A, the Champions League, and the Coppa Italia to worry about. And at the stages of these competitions, rotation is not really an option as Sarri will have the headache of fielding his best XI in these contests. Injuries have not been kind to the Bianconeri this season and these kinds of scenarios are the ones that see players get injured or suffer from burnout leading to a drop in performances.
The same could be said for Inter who are still in the Europa League. Though they’re one of the clear favorites to win the competition as it stands, complacency is not an option they can afford right now. Antonio Conte is known to be a serial winner and likes to deliver the goods no matter the cost.
For all the hype and effort the Nerazzurri have gotten so far, we can agree that it’ll be something of a disappointment if they finish the season without any form of silverware. The stern Italian must have noticed at this point that the Scudetto isn’t looking so guaranteed anymore and might be tempted to fully focus on the Europa League.
Imagine if Inter lose in the Derby d’Italia today, they’ll be eight points behind Lazio with only one game to spare and surely thoughts can start creeping in the squad that they are gradually slipping from the title run.
Which brings us down to Lazio. Top of the Serie A and only that competition to worry about each week. Their best players get ample rest periods between games and they are less likely to suffer injuries compared to Juve and Inter. A fresh squad full of energy and belief is what the Biancocelesti need now and it’s all playing well into their hands.
But that’s not all, there are still some reasons to further give Lazio hope they can pull one of the best Serie A stories we’ve seen in a while.
No Pressure On Them (They Have Greatly Over-Performed)
As is the norm with modern football, the media often push a certain narrative (the most marketable) and try to hit hard on it every week for a buzz. Everyone wanted the Juventus monopoly on the Scudetto to end but the media singled out Antonio Conte’s men as the ones to do that.
This means Inter will keep playing with a certain pressure on their hands which could see nerves get affected. The same could be said for Juventus who kept getting mentioned in the “unbeaten” bracket. And just like you’d expect, the moment they lost once, they lost the second and then the third.
Lazio have not had that sort of pressure. Why should they anyway? They are doing their business perfectly and silently and it’s properly highlighted by a simple fact.
The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku are being hailed as top performers so far but Ciro Immobile sits with pride at the top of the goal standings with a staggering 27 goals.
27 – Ciro Immobile has scored 27 goals in this Serie A season: he has equaled the record after 25 MD, belonged to Antonio Angelillo in 1958/59. Implacable. #GenoaLazio
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 23, 2020
In the assists chart, Luis Alberto also tops the pile with 11 assists and Immobile once again is joint-fourth in this category with 7 assists to his name.
They have excelled as a team as well. As per Whoscored, Lazio have scored 60 Serie A goals so far – 12 more than Juventus and 11 more than Inter. In the whole division, only Atalanta have scored more than Inzaghi’s men and that alone is highly commendable.
The same goes for their solidarity at the back. 23 goals conceded in 26 games means only Inter have conceded less with 22 goals. When you consider that the Nerazzurri have two games in hand (which they could likely concede in), it makes the feat by the Biancocelesti more laudable. As a team, they are doing well right now and are currently the team to beat and that’s no exaggeration.
There's a new unbeaten streak to end now. 👀 pic.twitter.com/BwJUKpYrGE
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 6, 2020
History Is On Lazio’s Side
If you believe history plays a part in current happenings, then it could be in support of Lazio winning the league. The last time the Biancocelesti won the Scudetto goes far back as the 1999-2000 season. How poetic is it that Simone Inzaghi who finished as the side’s top scorer for that triumph is the one currently leading the team?
Surely if anyone knows best about giving rallying pep talks to the team, he’s in the best position to do so having had history winning it not playing in the colors of a Juventus, Inter or Milan side. It might just be a coincidence, eh? But it’ll wrap up a good Serie A story seeing him win the Scudetto as player and coach for Lazio – with a far less star-studded team than the top two contending names.
There are still about 12-13 games to go and a lot can still happen in that time. However, the league needs an interesting twist and a Lazio Serie A win would be the perfect answer to that. They have the league’s top scorer, full of confidence and a coach who knows one or two about winning the Scudetto as well.
All of these coupled with the recent changes in the schedule is looking to play in favor of Lazio. As it stands, they have it in their own hands and the question remains if they have the mental strength to stay above two fighting giants till the end of the season.