Lazio’s recent run in Serie A was so impressive that Biancocelesti have climbed league table becoming the third best team just behind Napoli and Juventus. This stuff has been remarkable, especially when you think about the troubles their neighbours of Roma or Inter are facing so far.
Their 57 goals – for an impressive 2.6 goals per game – are the most of any side in Serie A, whilst their 1.93 points per game (before the loss to Milan) were the best of any other Lazio team in the top tier.
Huge credit for this performance goes to their manager Simone Inzaghi, who built an efficient brand of football good enough to take the edge from the players at his disposal. Inzaghi did great work considering he got the job in the summer of 2016 just after Marcelo Bielsa changed his mind quitting his role at the Serie A club two days after he signed the contract.
Inzaghi inherited a squad with some players strong enough when it comes to counterattacking such as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Ciro Immobile, and Marco Parolo. So it made sense for him to adopt a direct style of football focused on trying to go deep as soon as possible. To do it, Inzaghi shaped his team in a 3-5-1-1 line up featuring Luis Alberto as no.10 just behind Immobile. Coming to Lazio from Liverpool in the same year of his manager, the Spaniard has long been considered a kind of mystery object. But, after a year of apprenticeship, the 25-year old Luis Alberto became a key component into Inzaghi’s system and another hit made by the sporting director Igli Tare, the man who built a competitive roster through a smart recruitment campaign that brought on fresh talents for low-cost.
Luis Alberto’s growth has also been made possible thanks to Inzaghi’s decision to move the Spaniard from the flanks – the spot where he was supposed to flourish – to the role of attacking midfielder. Roaming all over the field and also dragging defenders out of position, Luis Alberto creates spaces for Milinkovic-Savic and Parolo to go through.
With Immobile attacking the opposite’s backline with his speed, defenders are forced to stretch their teams opening even more holes that Inzaghi’s midfielders are able to exploit. This offensive approach is backed by wing-backs able to move themselves higher the field in the way to provide width. Both these wing-backs – Senad Lulic and Adam Marusic – own pace, timing and stamina, and highly contributed to Lazio’s offensive phase posting two goals each and providing four and three assists respectively. Backups Jordan Lukaku and Dusan Basta too are reliable players so Inzaghi got good alternatives.
Lazio’s positional offense is featured with a lot play from the strong to the weak side, wide open wing-backs and through balls. Marusic’s goal against Milan could summarize their approach.
Lazio rarely dominated possession posting just an average of 50% of ball possession in the season but they are extremely accurate when it comes to shots on target. In fact, although Lazio averaged 14 shots per game (7th team in Serie A) they are fourth in the league in terms of shots on target 5.7. Above all, Lazio are the third best team when it comes to xG, according to understat.com model (41.11).
The positive environment Inzaghi created also contribute to increase the value of a roster which suffered a huge turmoil last summer after Lazio sold players such as Lucas Biglia or Keita Baldé.
Inzaghi’s defensive organisation also worded with Lazio defending in a 5-3-2 mid-block putting emphasis on covering the middle of the pitch closing the spaces between the lines of defence and midfield. It means that both the wing-backs usually collapse back once the midfield is filled by the three central midfielders.
Forwards are instructed to play narrow often covering opposite’s central midfielder also forcing the opponents to play wide where central midfielders and wing-backs could press the ball carrier who is slightly wider. Both strikers can also press the centre-backs in order to disrupt their buildup but is usually doesn’t happen high up the pitch in the way to maintain vertical compactness avoiding balls over Biancocelesti’s backline. In fact, deny depth to the opponents is a must for Inzaghi and it is showed by the fact Lazio’s head coach has no problem to lower his team’s barycenter when necessary in order to defend on their final third.
Although mid-block is a feature of Inzaghi’s Lazio, Biancocelesti can adapt themselves to the situation, for example pressing high up.
When out of possession, both wing-backs are asked to lower their position helping the three centre-backs to cover width whilst the interior midfielders take the charge to block the opponents’ full-backs using their body postures to prevent the opponents from bypassing this line of pressure.
Furthermore, another key role in Lazio’s defensive approach is played by Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian midfielder is well-suited to anchor the defence by playing in front of the backline.
Former Liverpool’s player has been brought on to replace Biglia and, although Leiva is a different footballer from the Argentinian, he can be very effective indeed both with and without the ball.
When out of possession, Levia provides that kind of play you can require to a holding midfielder playing in front of a back-three preventing opponents from advancing into Lazio’s own third of the field. Leiva acts as a so-called “midfield libero”, a no.6 responsible for adding protection to the teammates lined up at his back, especially with the wing-backs moving high up the pitch. With Lazio in possession, Leiva ensures protection for Milinkovic-Savic, Parolo and Luis Alberto allowing them the needed freedom to exploit the spaces up top. Leiva’s skills with the ball at his feet are showed by his 89% average of pass success and by his two assists.
Felipe Anderson and Nani offer Inzaghi depth up front as it has been showed in the game against Udinese when, with Immobile out due to an injury, the Brazilian was lined up as false nine to take the edge from his pace and his ability to drag defenders out of their positions.
With Immobile paying dividend after the struggles he suffered at Dortmund and Sevilla and with Roma and Inter facing some issues after a brilliant start of the season, Lazio might overcome them winning a spot for next season’s Champions League. Loss to Milan – also due to a Patrick Cutrone’s goal after the player handled the ball – can’t put a damper on the thoughts about Inzaghi, who built a strong side centered on mid-blocking, counterattacking and through balls.
Lazio’s boss showed to be a smart tactician but also a great man-manager. Maybe the time to prove himself in a top club has come.