Club Focus – Lazio – Biancocelesti fight back in Florence

Lazio showed grit and determination in Florence to fight back from a goal down to come away with all three points in this entertaining affair. It had been a week that had been dominated by rumours that star striker Mauro Zárate had fallen out with his Coach and was looking at the possibility of leaving the Biancocelesti.
Former Napoli tactician Edy Reja was faced with difficult choices going into this game with Fiorentina. His biggest decision was what to do with Zárate. In the previous Sunday’s victory over Bologna, the mercurial Argentine was removed at half-time and Reja saw a much improved Lazio after the break. After all the controversy surrounding him during the past week, it was widely expected he would start the match against la Viola. It would be an opportunity for him to prove a point, if nothing else. It was a tough call for Reja to make. Eventually he made the decision to leave Zárate out of his starting XI. It was a strange decision considering that Sergio Floccari was unavailable through injury. Whilst it is always easier to judge these decisions in hindsight, Reja certainly made the right call by leaving the underperforming hitman out. He opted to play new boy Hernanes behind lone front man Tommaso Rocchi. In the opening weekend defeat to Sampdoria, Reja used Sergio Floccari as a lone striker. It was a move that backfired as Floccari was often left isolated in attack and struggled to get involved. This time, Reja got it right – club captain Rocchi had more of a presence than Floccari and linked well with Hernanes throughout.

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It was Fiorentina who started the more positive. In the opening 60 seconds of the game, Adem Ljajić had nearly put Fiorentina in front, narrowly missing the target after good work from Juan Manuel Vargas. They broke the deadlock on 18 minutes, Ljajić scoring from the penalty spot after Alessio Cerci had been held back by Cristian Ledesma. Lazio hit back on the half-hour mark, Ledesma atoning for his earlier error, his deflected shot leaving Sebastian Frey in the Fiorentina goal with no chance. Alberto Gilardino had a header controversially ruled out for la Viola before the break and Tommaso Rocchi wasted two good chances for the visitors as well. Going in to half-time, it was la Biancocelesti who were certainly the more satisfied.
Tommaso Rocchi was surprisingly withdrawn on the hour mark – occupying Fiorentina’s backline alone was an unenviable task, but a task that the captain handled fantastically. He did not quite get the glory as he did in the Bologna game, but Rocchi had done his team proud with the shift he had put in at the Artemio Franchi. His replacement Libor Kozák was to be the hero on this day, the former Brescia player got what proved to be the winner just seven minutes after coming on. Frey in the Fiorentina goal managed to keep out a Hernanes drive but the ball fell kindly to the gracious Czech who simply could not miss. The capital club survived a few late scares – Lorenzo de Silvestri warmed Fernando Muslera’s gloves with a stinging drive. They played out the last few minutes in a professional manner that would have pleased Reja and ensured they headed back to Rome with all three points. It will not have pleased the Lazio tifosi to see Biancocelesti old boy Sinisa Mihajlović struggling, but they will be delighted at picking up three points from the notoriously tough Artemio Franchi.
The result sees Lazio head into Wednesday night’s encounter with Milan brimming with confidence. Consecutive wins for Lazio and things look to be coming together, certainly on the pitch at least. They will come up against a Rossoneri side licking their wounds after following up a shock defeat against Cesena with a tame home draw with Catania. Milan boast one of the world’s best attacking line-up, featuring brilliant Swede Zlatan Ibrahimović, the samba trio of Ronaldinho, Robinho and Alexandre Pato and still including the evergreen Filippo Inzaghi. Despite the all-star attack, in defence they remain shaky and if Tommaso Rocchi can continue his good form, then he can cause tremendous problems for the giants. It remains to be seen whether Reja sticks with Hernanes playing behind Rocchi, or restores the unsettled Zárate to the starting XI. Kozák staked his claim getting the winner against Fiorentina, but it is doubtful whether he is ready for such a big occasion.
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