Lazio returned to the Serie A summit, albeit briefly, following Sunday’s impressive victory against Napoli. Going into this fixture at the Stadio Olimpico, the form of both clubs was contrasting. Napoli arrived in Rome on the back of three straight wins, while for Lazio, two consecutive defeats had put a dent in the team’s fantastic start to the season. To lose the Rome derby was obviously hugely disappointing, but the reversal at Cesena was unexpected and hinted that the bubble may be on the way to bursting.
Thankfully, however, the Aquile returned to winning ways and opened up a four-point gap over their opponents while remaining just one behind Milan following the Rossoneri’s win in the Milan derby later that evening.
This fixture was of special importance to Lazio Coach Edy Reja, who had guided Napoli back into Serie A after a spell in the wilderness of the lower leagues. Reja put his midweek disagreement with Mauro Zarate behind him and selected the Argentine in his starting eleven.
The Coach’s faith was repaid almost immediately as Zarate opened the scoring for the home team. After previously wasting a good chance for the Romans, the attacker made no mistake with his second attempt, sublimely controlling a Stefano Mauri through ball with his chest before firing past Morgan De Sanctis in the Partenopei goal. The Napoli players claimed Zarate had handled but their appeals fell on deaf ears.
To their credit, the visitors responded well to going behind and for much of the first half had the better of proceedings. Both Marek Hamsik and Edison Cavani should have got the southern side back on level terms but wasted great chances. Ezequiel Lavezzi, who was a threat throughout the 90 minutes, then crashed a fantastic effort against the crossbar as Fernando Muslera in the Lazio goal clutched thin air.
Just before the referee signalled the end of the first half, Lazio had a genuine penalty appeal turned down after Gianluca Grava clumsily bundled Stefano Mauri over. The referee ignored Lazio appeals to the disbelief and disgust of the Aquile tifosi.
The second half started in tentative fashion with Lazio looking nervous, perhaps understandably so considering their previous two outings. Equally, however, Napoli seemed reluctant to push forward in search of an equaliser for fear of the hosts scoring a decisive second goal.
On the hour mark, however, the chess match subsided and the hosts did double their lead. The referee played an intelligent advantage after a foul on the edge of the penalty area, and Zarate continued before squaring for Sergio Floccari, who slotted beyond De Sanctis.
It proved a killer blow for Napoli, who looked weary and despondent in the aftermath. Zarate could have perhaps added more gloss to the scoreline and was especially unlucky when a deflected attempt came back off the visitors’ crossbar.
This was a fine result and performance from Lazio, and the perfect time to bounce back after their two previous displays. Reja and his men showed tremendous character to recover from those setbacks, and they also achieved the feat of inflicting Napoli’s first defeat away of the season.
It proves the Aquile still have plenty to offer this season, and that their sublime start to this campaign was by no means a fluke. Setbacks are always going to happen during a 38-game league campaign – the key is always how to respond in a positive manner and the hosts certainly managed that.
A defeat against your bitter rivals is always difficult to take, and the Aquile’s defeat in Cesena was perhaps the result of a derby day hangover. Edy Reja’s public falling out with Mauro Zarate appeared to show a Biancocelesti squad starting to crumble under the intense pressure, but again Reja has proved his resilience and must take huge credit for Sunday’s win.
This week sees the return of the international fixtures and allows all those in Serie A to take stock of how things are going both on and off the pitch. Reja will be rather pleased with his team’s position at the moment.
Next up for the Aquile is a trip to Parma, who have had a mostly poor but equally curious season so far. Pasquale Marino’s side, now up to 14th after two consecutive wins, have been blunt at both ends, scoring a paltry eight goals in their opening 12 fixtures but conceding only ten in the process. Expect a thriller on Sunday…