It was the night of April 18th, 2018. A Napoli squad that had at the start of the season committed to each other, their coach and the lofty goal of winning a Scudetto, were watching one of their rivals in Juventus from their hotel rooms with eager anticipation. After striker Gonzalo Higuain netted the game-winning goal in the 89′ minute against a formidable Inter, all aspirations seemed to fade and the Scudetto was lost. One month later, Lazio suffered an agonizing defeat in the last game of the season against that same Inter Milan squad, conceding the last spot for Champions League qualification to no other than the Nerazzurri. Much has been written and discussed over what may have been the game of the season in Serie A. Some have gone so far as to say that Lazio will be haunted by that game for years to come, but you will be hard pressed to find any member of the organization willing to hang their head.
The Eagle Stands Proud
From an outside perspective, Lazio looked to be in for a major rebuild effort this past off-season. With the likes of Stefan de Vrij already having his ticket punched to an Inter squad and Brazilian playmaker Felipe Anderson leaving to join West Ham in the Premier League, it seemed like Lazio were in for a real surprise come next season with no valid replacements. It also appeared as though Lazio would cash in on their young talented midfield play-maker Sergej Milinković-Savić and perhaps see their star striker Ciro Immobile move to a club with Champions League qualifications – who could blame them? Many pundits spoke as though the Biancocelesti might have no choice but to rebuild. Instead, however, the club showed great resilience and a commitment to winning and succeeding. They refused to sell their prize midfielder setting his price tag above his perceived value and are currently re-negotiating Immobile’s contract to tie him up long term. These are the actions of a club that wants to prove that they belong in Serie A’s top four, with the capability to take a Champions League spot in the league.
Commitment to Winning
Similar to Lazio, Napoli looked to keep their new winning culture in spite of a late season let down over the summer transfer window and did so retaining the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Piotr Zielinski, and Elseid Hysaj, while adding additional pieces to provide depth, quality, and competition staying within their financial means. Both clubs should be commended by the way they handle their business means as they are the only two clubs in the top six to spend less money in millions than points gained in a season. This shows great commitment to building a successful club the right way in an age when so many fall to frivolous and irresponsible expenditures and bankruptcy.
Having earned a nice profit from the sale of Felipe Anderson, Lazio were able to secure the group of talent in Joaquin Correa, Valon Berisha, Milan Badelj, Francesco Acerbi, and Riza Durmisi, Silvio Proto, Mattia Sprocati, and Djavan Anderson. Three years ago it was Napoli, under then-new coach Sarri, who was piecing together a core of young players to build a consistent long-term winning squad and nearly scored a Scudetto. Today, it is Lazio who are looking to reclaim that Champions League position and become a consistent successful fixture in Serie A.
Now in his second season as head coach of Lazio, is Simone Inzaghi prepared to rally his squad and take them to the next level in what is shaping up to be a very competitive Serie A season? If it is to be so, they will need to lift their quality and intensity up a notch to compete with the improved squads of Napoli, Inter, Milan, and city rivals Roma.
Last week’s game saw Lazio dictate the play against a sluggish Napoli until a beautiful move by Immobile around three defenders gave them the lead and unfortunately also awoke their opponent. From that point on Napoli picked up their tempo and intensity scoring an equalizer just before the whistle could end the first half. The second half saw a revitalized Napoli side continue to play with more intensity which Lazio failed to match, conceding a goal and the game. Both clubs have a difficult start to the season with Napoli facing a retooled Milan next while Lazio face-off against Serie A title defenders Juventus. Realizing the importance of getting off to a good start, Inzaghi delivered a motivating speech to his squad, urging them to put the loss behind them and look to their future. They are on the Partenopei path but Le Aquile will need to fully commit to each other and their coach while drawing strength from their fan base if they are to soar, like the eagle emblazoned on their chest.
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