Four wins, one draw, two clean sheets. You might have expected such a start from Inter, Roma, or perhaps even a rejuvenated Milan, but not Lazio. Last year’s mid-table finish and plethora of ugly, disjointed displays gave no hint of what they’ve done so far in this campaign. It has been a long, long time since the biancocelesti looked this good, and, sitting on top of the pile after five games, optimism is running wild.
While you cannot in good conscience take their more ebullient fans to task (after all, they have suffered years of mediocre performances), it’s certainly not time for them to count their chickens, or even eagles, just yet. If Lazio are to be this season’s Sampdoria they’ll have to keep their feet on the ground and their heads out of the clouds for some time yet.
Sampdoria were last season’s surprise package largely because of their ability to combine defensive solidity with occasional but effective flair. On that front the signs are good for Lazio who have been as sturdy as the Stadio Olympico itself this season. With the full-backs Stefan Radu and Stephan Lichsteiner heading up the pitch rarely and reluctantly, they have shown an admirably unambitious sense of discipline.
The real defensive lynch-pin has been Cristian Ledesma, holding deep at the base of a midfield diamond. Now past the ridiculous dispute that almost ruined his career at Lazio, the player looks startlingly good. At present there is not a better man in his position in the league. Should Cesare Prandelli offer the Argentine a place in the national set-up on his current form, Daniele De Rossi will be sweating over the inclusion of his name on the team sheet. If Lazio are to continue at their current pace, Ledesma’s athleticism and anticipation will be absolutely crucial.
That’s just half the story. Will Lazio be able to maintain their ability to take opportunities at the business-end of the field? Looking at the personnel at their disposal, they are certainly well-placed to do so.
Without splashing the cash too wildly, over time, Lazio have acquired an impressive array of creative talent. Of course the glittering star of the midfield so far has been the slaloming Anderson Hernanes de Carvalho Andrade. His ability to take the game aggressively to the opposition has been devastating. Alongside Javier Pastore at Palermo, Serie A now boasts two of world football’s most thrilling talents.
The resurgence of Stefano Mauri has been another driving force behind the club’s great start. Mauri, a player who has had a fairly middling career, seems to have been reborn – playing exquisitely at the advanced tip of Edy Reja’s diamond. His recent recall to the Azzurri has been much deserved and he will probably need to play even better if Lazio are to push on and take something meaningful from this season.
Add into the mix the powerful Marco Bresciano, the wild Pasquale Foggia, the inconsistent but exciting Mauro Zarate, the widely underrated Sergio Floccari and fan favourite Tommaso Rocchi – and Lazio really do look like a threatening proposition for any team in the league. That said, one would expect Coach Reja to continue to focus more on keeping a solid defence, as that is where authentic tilts at the top tend be begin, especially in Italy. The attack will largely take care of itself, in some combination.
Reja has been around. He is more experienced in the Italian league than almost any other of his competitors and, at 64, now is the time to bring all that know-how into play. His Lazio are well-drilled, confident and capable.
Only time – and results to come – will tell if they are actually good enough to be taken in earnest once again.