Despite beating Napoli, Lazio have been woeful to start the season, while Torino have put together a promising start exploiting their summer additions.
Serie A Week 6 – Wednesday 27 September 2023 – Stadio Olimpico | Preview by Enrico Passarella
It’s very weird that Lazio struggled out of the gate because, other than swapping out Daichi Kamada for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, their XI is mostly unchanged. In particular, it was stunning to see them being porous in the back, their true forte, even though they don’t have the most trumpeted defense. The tremendous showing against Napoli quickly turned out to be an outlier.
Maurizio Sarri and some players hinted at motivation-related problems to explain the situation, but that’d be silly. If anything, the success should fuel their hunger, and not vice versa. Finishing second is an achievement, but it’s not like they have just won the treble.
Despite the unnecessary drama, their summer moves were solid. Since keeping the Serb was no longer viable, they couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome. Nobody in Europe would have paid that much for an aging star. It took them a while, but they ultimately spread the dough on three purchases. It would have been impossible to replace the Serbian with one player unless they splurged, plus the newcomer would have had excessive expectations.
Instead, the Daichi Kamada, Matteo Guendozi, and Nicolò Rovella threesome gives them a lot more depth than in the past. If it wasn’t for Luis Alberto, that could easily be a serviceable and well-assorted starting line. Playing time won’t be a problem since they’ll care more about the Champions League than the two cups in 2022/2023.
They have yet to unleash the fully technical midfield since the ex-Juventus starlet has been banged up in the early going. It’s not a lock to work out, even though all three are no slouches work rate-wise. Instead, the Alberto-Kamada combo looked wobbly at first but held up in the biggest test, plus Guendouzi needs some time to learn their system, even though his energy is already remarkable.
Other than substituting for their departed ace, they only had to solidify their squad, and they did it. Luca Pellegrini is back to give them four trustworthy fullbacks, and they’ll be more at ease when Ciro Immobile and Pedro are injured or need to rest with Taty Castellanos and Gustav Tang Isaksen right behind them. Both have potential despite not being super young, but the gaffer hasn’t trusted them much so far.
The coach has been pretty conservative with his rotation, but he’ll have to open it up sooner rather than later to avoid running players into the ground. The lineup could and perhaps should be unusual in this one. They have had issues on both ends, which is obviously a pitiful spot to be in. The rearguard took a step back for unknown reasons, to the point that Nicolò Casale has even been benched, while Immobile has been the only attacker to score so far.
It might simply be happenstance for Matteo Zaccagni, who’s been sprightly in basically every contest despite no end product, while Felipe Anderson hasn’t been as fizzy as in the past campaign. The competition seems to have had the opposite effect rather than raising everybody’s level. If anything, their mental frailty has been on display so far. It’s a vicious cycle because morale can only be boosted through good showings and results. They need a slump-busting display, or a top-four berth will quickly start looking like a mirage.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Provedel; Marusic, Casale, Romagnoli, Hysaj; Kamada, Vecino, Alberto; Anderson, Immobile, Zaccagni.
Doubts: Hysaj/Pellegrini, Vecino/Cataldi, Zaccagni/Pedro.
Torino approach the clash with a completely different mood after finding a late equalizer against Roma and beating Genoa and Torino, quickly leaving the early blah results in the rearview mirror. The Granata are no strangers to being streaky one way or the other, so they’ll look to ride the wave of enthusiasm in this one. Their additions have paid dividends.
They are in a key season as Ivan Juric is in the final year of his contract. Both parties will have to decide whether to stick together sooner rather than later, and the results will be pivotal, as logical. They have been generally solid but were never really in contention for Europe during his tenure. Last season offered the best opportunity to do so. They were reasonably close but didn’t get it.
The gaffer has been successfully stocking the narrative that their shortcomings come from lack of investments, insufficient long-term planning, as they have had a ton of loans in recent years and very few players stayed put afterward, poor roster continuity, and the adjustment period caused by selling linchpins.
He wasn’t wrong, but the brass removed all those excuses this summer since they didn’t cash in on any center-piece, even though Perr Schuurs and Samuele Ricci were in demand. It would have been foolish to keep ahold of Wilfried Singo and risk losing him for nothing, and he had plateaued. Moreover, considering also January, they spent a decent buck for Ivan Ilic, Raoul Bellanova, Nikola Vlasic, and Duvan Zapata, addressing the need for another proven striker as the gaffer demanded.
The masterplan would have been complete and unassailable had they brought back Aleksej Miranchuk or another talented left-footed no.10. Still, the boss has enough to work with. Moreover, Adrien Tameze and Valentino Lazaro provide much-needed depth and are already familiar with the system.
Therefore, more lies on the shoulders of the manager to take an extra step from being just a plucky opponent whose strong showings against top teams ultimately don’t amount to much at the end of the season. The infrastructure wasn’t dented and is more robust as a whole. It’s up to the gaffer to groom and enhance a few players with untapped potential. There’s no shortage of those in the squad, including some that are already solid realities like Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, Schuurs, Alessandro Buongiorno, Mergim Vojvoda, Yann Karamoh, and their midfielders. Plus, the ever-maddening Nemanja Radonjic, who can very easily look like a million bucks or a frustrating turnover machine depending on the day.
Juric has extensively downplayed the possibility of using the two center-forwards together, but he shouldn’t be too stubborn about it, as both are mobile enough and they aren’t deep up front. Plus, it’d be unfair to toss Sanabria to the side so quickly after he finally hit his stride as a goal-poacher in the past campaign, even though a physical reference point does make more sense for the scheme overall. Still, the one who birthed it in Italy, Gian Piero Gasperini, has been able to make it sing with a variety of solutions. The two actually form a well-mixed combo, although they would have a lot less pace, and that’s perhaps what the coach dislikes the most.
Their defense regrouped after collapsing against Milan, and they are usually stingy since they have a lot of talent there. Bellanova didn’t need much time to prove he just needed minutes and trust to return to his promising Cagliari form. They could have used a different maker on the left, but those are pricey. While they have been game in the last few matchdays, they have a lot of room for improvement, as Ricci, Ilic, and Vlasic haven’t been superb amid dings and bruises. Should they get into shape too, they’ll be a very tough nut to crack for everybody, as they’ll add a lot of quality on both ends.
Expected XI (3-4-2-1): Milinkovic-Savic; Schuurs, Buongiorno, Rodriguez; Bellanova, Ilic, Tameze, Lazaro; Vlasic, Radonjic; Zapata.
Doubts: Tameze/Ricci, Lazaro/Soppy, Radonjic/Seck.
Injury Report: Vojvoda (thigh injury) – Questionable; Djidji (sports hernia surgery), Popa (orbital fracture), Zima (knee soreness) – Out
Draw – Under 2.5 goals