In a week that heard Cristiano Doni’s lawyer say of his charge, “He just wanted above all to win for Atalanta,” after the match-fixing scandal and the hoopla surrounding the mercenary formerly known as Carlos Tevez, now Carlitos, over which Milan club will meet his and Manchester City’s demands, it’s not only Edy Reja and Lazio who need a morale boost. Yet following the 4-0 hammering away at Siena in the first game of 2012, a loss that had Lazio fans reloading for another attack on the 66 year-old, Tuesday night’s dramatic 3-2 win over Verona was if not a boost, at least a massage to the heart of Le Aquile.
Reja’s relationship with the Laziali has been fractious this season with the Coach close to quitting before the brilliant 2-1 win over rivals Roma. However, an unbeaten run of nine games has bought Reja little credit and following the defeat to Siena it’s been rumoured the coach is again at the end of his patience. Such pressure seems unfounded with Lazio suffering only two defeats up to Christmas, the best record since the Roberto Mancini led side of 2002/3. And though some commentators felt the derby victory was a turning point in the relationship, the spineless capitulation at the Artemio Franchi has seen fresh concerns dominate the build-up to Sunday’s match with Atalanta.
Many see the midfield as central to the problem; overly-reliant on Cristian Ledesma and 35 year-old Cristian Brocchi, the latter’s absence since late November perhaps in part responsible for Lazio’s recent inconsistency. The Press, having decided the problem has linked the club with a host of players including Sulley Muntari, Marco Parolo, Angelo Palombo, Davide Biondini, plus Genoa’s Juraj Kucka and Kevin Constant.
Muntari has had limited playing time at Inter since returning from a loan spell with Sunderland, but is on international duty with Ghana who are amongst the favourites for the Africa Cup of Nations (ACN). It would seem suicidal for Cesena to sell club captain Marco Parolo when they need him most, but he remains a possibility. Constant has got a sturdy engine and would provide the legs to help turn over play in midfield, though he still needs to develop the attacking side to his game. Curiously, the former Toulouse player asked to be left out of Guinea’s squad on Thursday before the upcoming ACN citing personal issues, whether that has anything to do with Lazio is yet to be seen. Kucka is more defensively minded and with Ledesma, Francelino Matuzalem and Lorik Cana, Reja looks to have enough in that position. Biondini is nothing more than mass in the middle, and at 28 would only be worth a loan.
Another headache is summer signing Djibril Cisse. The Frenchman started his Lazio career with four goals in three matches, but has failed to find the net since, a run of twenty-one consecutive games, and his frustration was apparent in the first half against Verona as he struggled to link up with Cristian Rocchi. Speculation simmers that the former Champions League winner is looking to leave the Olimpico but with Lazio still in the three competitions it seems unlikely Reja would sell a hitherto proven goal-scorer.
Injuries remain a concern for the coach ahead of the Atalanta game that might decide his future at the club. Brazilian midfielder Hernanes, who scored the 91st minute winner against Verona, picked up a knee-injury after the game, and Abdoulay Konko is struggling with a calf problem while Cana is taking complete rest in France. There are positives though, with ‘keeper Federico Marchetti who missed the last three games likely to return for Sunday’s early kick-off as is Stefan Radu and Lionel Scaloni who both suffered after the Siena loss.
Lazio have won five of their last six meetings with Atalanta at the Olimpico but after leaking six goals in two games, will need more than a morale boost to save their coach.