Mauro Zarate put all of his recent troubles behind him as his goal fired Lazio into joint top spot in Serie A. The mercurial Argentine has had his difficulties over the past few weeks. His start to the season has been less than impressive, having started the previous two games on the substitutes bench. His apparent differences of opinion with Coach Eddy Reja had reignited rumours that Zarate might have left the Stadio Olimpico for pastures new. At the Bentegodi on Sunday afternoon, all of these problems were forgotten. Partnered in attack with Sergio Floccari, Zarate performed brilliantly, occupying the Chievo defence with his clever runs and cute touches.
Eddy Reja, once again, opted to rotate his starting XI and tactics. During the home game with Milan in the week, Lazio played with Sergio Floccari as a lone striker. It’s a strategy Reja seems to favour, but in the Milan game, Floccari was often left isolated in attack and struggled to make any impact on the game. Here, the former Napoli tactician went with two up top, and – more specifically – with Zarate working alongside Floccari. It was a bold move: playing with two strikers, away from home, against a team like Chievo who are soaring high in Serie A at the moment. Be that as it may, it was a gamble that paid off. I Biancocelesti started off the match in spectacular fashion. Hernanes almost turned in a Stephan Lichsteiner cross, just two minutes into the game. Lichsteiner was wreaking some major havoc down the right hand side for Lazio: the Swiss sent in another cross, which narrowly evaded the run of Stefano Mauri. Hernanes fired another shot whistling past the post but possibly clipped it wide on its way before Zarate missed what can only be described as an absolute sitter. His strike-partner Sergio Floccari sent over a wonderfully weighted cross, which Zarate somehow managed to scoop over the bar, from just six yards out. The look on the Argentines face told you all you needed to know about how he was feeling. His linking with Floccari was a positive to take out of the move, giving Reja justification for going with two in attack.
It did look, for long periods, as if Lazio were going to repeat the mistakes Milan made against them, just four days prior to this fixture. They too dominated the overture of the match, but failed to capitalise on that dominance and the Rossoneri ended up leaving the capital with only one point, when they really should have taken all three. Lazio would have been given further belief they could go back to Rome with all the loot, when Chievo talisman Sergio Pellissier departed early in the 2nd half with an injury. I Biancocelesti finally broke through on 70 minutes as Mauro Zarate eventually got rewarded for his efforts. It was a tremendous goal, a long and ambitious ball, expertly controlled by the Argentine and dispatched with the sheer quality we certainly expect from the talented marksman. Zarate tried a difficult half-volley from an acute angle and somehow squeezed it past Stefano Sorrentino in the Chievo goal. It was a timely reminder to his Coach, the fans and all concerned, of just what a truly remarkable player they have at their disposal. Whilst it would be foolish to dish out any special treatment to any player, there is no doubt Zarate’s abilities ought to be nurtured in a different way: how about an occasional arm round his shoulder just for the sake of reminding him of his talents? It is vitally important that Lazio get the best out of their main man, or their stay at the high end of Serie A will be short-lived indeed.
Unfortunately, tempers frayed towards the end of the game as it may have suddenly dawned on Chievo’s players they had wasted the opportunity to join Inter at the top of the Serie A pile. Cristian Brocchi went down injured after blocking a Chievo attempt on goal and, instead of sportingly putting the ball out of play to enable Brocchi to get treatment, the Flying Donkeys pushed forward in search of an equaliser. Whilst their actions were understandable, opting to play on was decidedly unsportsmanlike conduct. The ensuing scuffle tarnished what had been in reality, a mild-mannered game up to that point. No doubt, Chievo made life difficult for the Light Blues throughout the match but, while the Coach is keen to cool off any potential Scudetto talk at this stage, it is a refreshing change to be able to rely on a modicum of optimism, following the club’s impressive start to the season.
It’s back to the Olimpico next week for the visit of Brescia, yet another team going through an excellent phase in the dizzy heights of the Serie A table. For I Biancocelesti, this will certainly be viewed as a winnable fixture. More importantly still, they will be expected to pick up where they left off.