A quick look at the league table will explain just why Lazio fans are grinning from ear to ear at the moment. Fresh from a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Milan, the Biancocelesti sit third in the table and still very much in the Scudetto hunt, a far cry from this time last season when the club could arguably have been described as relegation candidates. Since Edoardo Reja replaced Davide Ballardini almost a year ago, the club have been on an upward trajectory that has seen them shed the tag of underachievers and return to the upper echelons of Serie A.
Lazio have been the dark horses of the season in Serie A. After an opening day defeat to Sampdoria the Aquile went on an eight game unbeaten run, claiming the impressive scalps of Palermo and Fiorentina along the way. Much was made during this run of the form of Hernanes, signed from Sao Paolo during the summer. The attacking midfielder has continued to impress playing in the gap between midfield and defence and contributing five goals and five assists so far.
Reja has constructed his team in such a way as to provide the Brazilian an ideal platform for his unique talents, a move that has negative as well as positive implications. When Hernanes has been unavailable, for example against Cesena earlier in the season, Lazio have looked void of inspiration and have struggled to create chances. In the 1-0 defeat to Cesena, Sergio Floccari was noticeably starved of service despite playing in front of what is, on paper, an exceptionally creative midfield. Could it be that the likes of Cristian Ledesma and Christian Brocchi have become too reliant on the Brazilian maestro?
Another facet that Lazio have added to their game under Reja is a battling quality that had previously been sorely lacking. This, along with with a new aversion to defeat, was plain to see in the recent 3-1 defeat to Bologna when an all out brawl broke out after the final whistle. The newfound desire was also evident in Lazio’s 3-2 victory against Udinese. Despite Udinese twice drawing level, the Aquile battled on and were rewarded when Libor Kozak pressured Cristian Zapata into putting through his own net with just two minutes left on the clock to salvage three points.
Czech forward Kozak epitomises the new Lazio. A player plucked from the obscurity of Czech Second Division side Opava and matured on loan in Serie B, the forward has come good this season, contributing four goals including winners against Sampdoria and Fiorentina. Acquired cheaply by President Claudio Lotito, the Czech also proves that Lazio don’t have to spend big to be competitive, while his aggressive, physical style is exactly what Lazio need to cope with the poor form of Mauro Zarate and Tomasso Rocchi.
Despite exiting the Coppa Italia after losing to Roma, the Biancocelesti will remain optimistic of finishing the season on a high and continuing to improve into the next campaign. After their recent slump, it seems about time that Lazio were back challenging for major honours and, under the watchful eye of Lotito, Edy Reja’s side are making strides in the right direction.