Lazio traveled to Seville in hopes of overturning a 1-0 deficit from the first leg match in the UEFA Europa League. Lazio spent most of the first 15-20 minutes carefully feeling out their opponents and only tentatively crossing center. The first big break came for the Biancocelesti when both Ciro Immobile and Felipe Caicedo allowed a ball from the wing to filter through to Senad Lulic, who probably should have struck it first time. Instead, the Bosnian, who had done well to slice through the Sevilla defense, instead attempted to carry the ball in on a breakaway before he was brought down in a very dubious challenge by the Sevilla defense. No penalty according to the game referee but replays indicated more than a little contact. As if to pour salt on the wound, Sevilla stormed downfield and immediately opened the scoring when Ben Yedder turned in a ball that Thomas Strakosha parried directly on to his path to the back post. Following the goal, Lazio turned the attacking pressure up somewhat but it was too little and far too timid as the Biancocelesti went into the half down a goal.
At the start of the second half, Inzaghi made his first substitution and with it transformed the squad tactically as Patric was subbed off for Joaquin Correa and the team switched to a 4-3-3 formation. The formation change seemed to provide Lazio with a bit more forward traction. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was given a little more space to maneuver. The Serbian provided a delightful through-ball to Francesco Acerbi who, alone in front of the goal, did not manage to beat the Sevilla keeper. But it was clear that Milinkovic-Savic was still not fully recovered from his injury and so in the 56th-minute, Romulo replaced the player. The game seemed to break for Lazio in the 61st minute when Vazquez picked up a second yellow card and was ejected from the match. Sevilla were reduced to 10 men and Lazio looked poised to take advantage, creating opportunity after opportunity. The Romans probed and pushed but were let down repeatedly by poor touches, poor decision-making and plain bad luck in the final third. In the 71st minute whatever momentum Lazio had had came to a crashing halt when Adam Marusic picked up a needless – if rather generous – red card from the British referee. Rather predictably, the air came out of the Lazio attack rather quickly and Pablo Sanabria added another goal with Sevilla’s only opportunity of the second half, beating Riza Durmisi before working a give and go with Jesus Navas. The game ended 2-0 (3-0 on aggregate) as Lazio were eliminated from the Europa League.
It is difficult to pick out too many positives from Lazio’s Europa League exit and their form of late in the Series A is also very troubling. Injuries aside, the team has not managed to recapture the drive and verve of last season that saw them challenge until the ultimate week for a Champions’ League spot. That Lazio, which managed to captivate fans with its explosive attack and free-flowing play has appeared seldomly if at all in the last five or six months. In its stead is a turgid and lackadaisical squad with the most fragile of mentalities. Something has changed either in the relationship between players themselves or between the players and the coach – or both. Inzaghi seems intent on ramming the square peg of a three-man defense into the round hole of available players regardless of experience, suitability and even talent. The Lazio bench boss has demonstrated a tactical stubbornness that is beginning to verge on pathological. As bad as it has been there are opportunities for Lazio to salvage something of the season. There is precious little time for Inzaghi’s men to sit about and sulk since the next week will see the Eagles face A.C. Milan in the first match of the Coppa Italia semi-final mere days ahead of the derby. Positive results in these two games would go a long way toward placating fans and settling the squad ahead of the crucial final phase of the season. Losses… Well, let’s just say it’ll be a very very turbulent three months and it may not be Inzaghi piloting the ship through it.