Close but no cigar. Lazio will feature in Europe next season but not in the competition they craved. After occupying a Champions League position for much of the season, the Biancocelesti were pipped at the post by Udinese and by the tightest of margins. It took the fourth ladder decider to determine the Friuli side would feature in next season’s premier European club competition and not the Romans, who go into the Europa League.
A turbulent 2009/10 campaign saw Lazio noted more for the off-the-pitch antics of President Claudio Lotitio than anything on the pitch. The year was fraught with disharmony and disputes over player contracts and it showed, as Lazio slumped to a disappointing 12th place finish. Edoardo Reja replaced Davide Ballardini as Coach in February and instantly gave stability to the club.
Reja’s firm yet steady approach has guided Lazio back into Europe, with the team largely built upon last seasons. Lotito and much-maligned sporting director Igli Tare secured the services of Brazilian maestro Hernanes and Sergio Floccari on a permanent basis.
The capital club enjoyed a more prolific season in front of goal, scoring 55 times compared to 39 in 09/10. This was largely due to the influence of Hernanes, who settled in to life in Serie A quickly, plus his support cast – Stefano Mauri, Mauro Zárate and Sergio Floccari. Mauri’s early season form was rewarded with a call-up to the Italy squad. They also had one of the best defensive units in the league, conceding only 39 goals – equal second with Napoli – with André Dias and Giuseppe Biava forming a strong partnership in the centre.
Reja’s men enjoyed a bright start, even occupying first place for a period. It was not only Reja and Hernanes having an effect on the team, but their new mascot. An eagle would fly around the Stadio Olimpico before each match to provide good luck, and Lazio went unbeaten at home. However, when it was deemed too dangerous for Olimpia to be present at the Rome derby, Lazio lost their good-luck charm and unbeaten record. Top spot soon followed.
Matches against city rivals Roma were the main disappointment of the year, with a pair of 2-0 defeats in the league, including a highly controversial first encounter, and a 2-1 loss to the Giallorossi in the Coppa Italia.
A total of 33 points going into the winter break gave Lazio third position and showed the rest of the competition they were genuine European contenders. The club added to the forward line with the January acquisition of Giuseppe Sculli while Zárate began to show his best form.
2011 was characterised by a number of missed opportunities to secure fourth spot. Points lost at home to the likes of Lecce and Chievo were coupled with defeats against Napoli, Inter, Juventus and Udinese. In each loss Lazio were in a position to take something out of the match but failed. Consequently, they finished fifth on 66 points. They were equal with Udinese but missed out on the Champions League on overall goal difference; their head-to-head points, goal difference and goals scored records were identical.
Coach – Edoardo Reja:
He gave Lazio a solid base from which to build. Sitting in the relegation zone when he took over in 09/10, Reja took Lazio to within a whisker of the Champions League. They were tough to beat in his 4-2-3-1 system, while he got the best out of his creative players.
Player of the season – Hernanes:
The signing from São Paulo had an immediate impact, scoring in his first home match and not looking back. Hernanes was the clubs highest scorer with 11 goals and the creative fulcrum of the team. Certainly one of the best signings of the season.
Turning point – Lazio 3-1 Inter, December 3 2010:
Lazio had picked up five points from a possible 15 prior to this and although Inter struggled under Rafa Benítez, the Romans showed here they were not about to slide down the ladder after a bright beginning. Goals from Biava, Zárate and Hernanes served notice to the rest of Italy.
Average starting XI:
Lichsteiner – Biava – André Dias – Radu
Brocchi – Ledesma
Mauri – Hernanes – Zárate