Lazio’s 2-0 loss to Arsenal in their first international pre-season match is anything but a tragedy. The English side are ahead in conditioning on account of the Premier League’s earlier start and Lazio fielded a mix of depth players, new acquisitions, and missing notable players such as Immobile, Caceres, and Strakosha. The friendly seems to have produced a general consensus of concerns about the current state of the biancocelesti going into the season. Neither of these concerns will be unfamiliar to the team’s faithful.
The first continues to be the defensive play of Inzaghi’s men. Last year, the squad was amongst the best in terms of goals scored but the worst in terms of goals conceded. Given that the club replaced its most talented defender, Stefan de Vrij, with Francesco Acerbi, it certainly remains to be seen if they can improve on last year’s defensive performance. However the return of Martin Caceres, who had a solid World Cup for Uruguay, leaves some room for optimism. Likewise, the acquisition of the experienced Milan Badelj in the midfield mean that Lazio have greater depth in the midfield where the critical duo of Lucas Leiva and Marco Parolo struggled under the weight of a hefty schedule.
The second general concern seems to be the offensive output of the club without Ciro Immobile. Despite scoring a league leading 89 goals last season, Immobile scored 29 of them, and 41 goals total in the 47 games he played. Without him, Inzaghi turned to Felipe Caicedo. Caicedo scored 6 goals – 3 apiece in Serie A and Europa League. Inevitably, this has led to questions about whether Caicedo was up to the task of backing up Ciro. Lazio’s failure to score against Arsenal has only revived the lingering concerns. The Ecuadorian has been linked with a fair share of destinations over the summer, but Inzaghi continues to value his place on the team. Perhaps the problem isn’t Caicedo, it’s the way the team plays around him.
There’s no question that Immobile is currently enjoying some of the best football of his career. However, no striker scores without a solid team behind him. In its current form, Lazio is built for Immobile – quick counter-attacking play led by quick crafty wingers and midfielders who allow Ciro the space and breadth to find gaps in the final third and strike at goal. Ciro is relentless in his movement and finds gaps in defenses like few can.
Unfortunately for Caicedo, these are not his strengths. I’ve often joked that he holds better than most midfielders and finishes worse than most strikers. Caicedo requires more depth and breadth from his teammates and he is far less aggressive at exploiting gaps in the opponent backlines. He is, however, extremely strong with his back to goal and seems as likely to hold and supply around the box as he is to attempt a strike. He is also more aggressive in his defending than Ciro.
The fact that Inzaghi has publicly supported the striker throughout the rumours indicates that he appreciates what Caicedo does apart from scoring. It may also mean that his presence on the team is beneficial. Neither of these things should be hastily discounted. If Inzaghi can get the team to adapt to Caicedo’s style when necessary, he might very well be a useful tactical option. But as long as the team continues to play as if the two strikers are identical, it simply won’t work. So either Inzaghi finds a way to adapt the team’s play to Caicedo, or it’s best to move him along.
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