Important games in Serie A are coming thick and fast and the clash between Lazio and Juventus offers another mouth-watering prospect. The home side are chasing a lucrative Champions League spot, whilst, having reduced the gap on Inter to four points, Claudio Ranieri will be anxious to pile the pressure on the league leaders.
A poor run of form before the winter break saw Lazio let their stranglehold on a top four place slip through their hands and subsequently increased the pressure on Delio Rossi‘s tenure. Defeat to the Old Lady could see them fall six points off the pace, whereas a win will keep the pressure on the teams above them and move them to within six points of the Bianconeri.
The Eagles are full of attacking flair and have scored their fair share of goals this season, netting 29 goals in 18 Serie A outings. However, they are also susceptible at the back and the 24 goals conceded have seen them slip down the pecking order. Shot-stopper Juan Pablo Carrizo has only managed five clean sheets, but despite their defensive frailties Rossi will keep faith in his preferred 4-3-2-1 formation. If his side is to finish in the top four however, the former Atalanta Coach needs to find a method of tightening the defensive unit.
The answer to this may lie in the capital club’s search for a midfield player. During the January transfer window they have been linked with former favourite Juan Sebastian Veron, Man City’s out-of-favour Brazilian Elano and have raised their bid for CFR Cluj’s Sebastian Dubarbier. They may also want to consider bringing in a strong, reliable centre-half. At present those key positions are occupied by Mobido Diakite, and former Newcastle man, David Rozehnal, both of whom are prone to error, with the latter was partly at fault for the penalty at Reggina last weekend. Lorenzo de Silvestri in the right-back berth has been the only consistent performer, and although Stefan Radu does little wrong, he is culpable of committing fouls in dangerous areas and already has five yellow cards against his name this season. With the Old Lady sporting one of the best free-kick specialists in the world in Alessandro Del Piero, the feisty Romanian will need to be on his best behaviour.
Cristian Brocchi is key to protecting Lazio’s back four and Rossi declared his value to the team by resting him against Reggina last weekend. Ensuring his availability for the game with Juve, the Italian hard man will likely partner Mourad Meghni in midfield. The former Bologna playmaker has looked solid this season and will offer more protection to the backline than Juve target Stefano Mauri. Cristian Ledesma will complete the midfield trequartista and also offer the option to link up with the front three.
After recovering from a slight knock, Goran Pandev returned to goal-scoring form with a hat-trick last weekend and will be brimming with confidence. The Macedonian striker provides width and along with the incisive runs of striking partner Mauro Zarate on the opposite flank, will create havoc for the Bianconeri defence. Influential captain, Tommaso Rocchi is pinnacle to the Eagles attacking prowess and will use his strength to hold the ball up to bring his colleagues into play.
The threat of Lazio’s dangerous front three will not have escaped the attention of the Juve backline and whilst the Old Lady is struggling with injuries, Ranieri still has quality players at his disposal. Nicola Legrottaglie has been a rock in the heart of defense and in the absence of Giorgio Chiellini against Siena last weekend, Olof Mellberg stepped in and proved to be a more than capable deputy. The versatile Swede has been a worthy acquisition to the title chasers since his Bosman switch from Aston Villa and before covering in the centre had ousted Zdenek Grygera from the right-back berth. If the influential Chiellini fails to recover from the muscle strain he picked up before Christmas, Mellberg and Grygera will line up alongside each other with the ever-consistent Cristian Molinaro taking up his role at left-back.
The Juventus faithful were hoping to see a return to the side for Gigi Buffon after he successfully completed 45 minutes in a recent friendly with Monaco, but the tifosi favourite felt a recurrence of his back injury in training last week and may have to remain on the sidelines. Should that be the case, Alex Manninger will continue in goal. The former Siena stopper has kept seven clean sheets and conceded just ten goals in 15 appearances this season and if Italy’s number one is eventually lured to Manchester City, the Bianconeri can be assured they have a capable replacement already on their books.
That said though, Ranieri’s side is solid at the back, having only conceded seven goals on the road this season, 13 in total. Much of that boils down to their inexhaustible work ethic. In possession they keep the ball well, but it is when they don’t have the ball that the Bianconeri work the hardest. Midfielders and defenders alike will bust a gut to track back and cover. That workmen-like mentality is opitimised by Mohammed Sissoko who chases and harries all game, breaking up the fluency of the opposition. The tenacity and form of the Mali midfielder offers will cause the Juve Coach selection problems in light of the return of influential anchorman Cristiano Zanetti. Until the no-nonsense midfielder regains full fitness though, he may have to settle for a second-half cameo appearance.
With the treatment room occupied with enough players to name a full side, including the likes of Mauro Camoranesi and David Trezeguet, the Bianconeri Tactician will have been pleased to see Pavel Nedved complete a full 90 minutes in his last outing. The 36- year-old still has bags of energy and his driving runs down the left flank are so important in providing Amauri with aerial ammunition. With Marco Marchionni providing the crosses on the opposite flank, Claudio Marchisio and Del Piero pulling the strings through the middle, the Lazio defence will be stretched and could be opened up like a tin of sardines.
Both teams have plenty of attacking options and with points vital in securing their respective ambitions, don’t anticipate a 0-0 stalemate in this one.