Lazio had a tougher test than they may have expected in their 1-0 win over CFR Cluj in the first leg of their Europa Conference League knockout play-offs.
The Biancocelesti were knocked down to the third tier of European competition after finishing third in a Europa League group containing Feyenoord, FC Midtjylland and Sturm Graz.
Maurizio Sarri’s side were inconsistent on the European stage in the first half of the season, symbolic of their Serie A season so far, but showed important resilience in their first outing in the Conference League.
Sarri rotated his Lazio squad a little for their clash with Cluj, deploying Luis Maximiano, Patric, Marcos Antonio and Matias Vecino, leaving the usual starters on the bench. Stefan Radu and Alessio Romagnoli were both unavailable due to injuries, and Luka Romero was out following his red card against Feyenoord.
Lazio quickly found themselves on the back foot against Cluj after defender Patric was shown a red card. The Spanish defender, filling in for the injured Romagnoli, lunged into a sloppy challenge as the last man on winger Ermal Krasniqi, leaving the referee with no choice but to send him off after just 15 minutes.
The Biancocelesti maintained focus despite the disadvantage and took the lead just before half time thanks to a wonderful striker from Ciro Immobile, who classily volleyed a chipped pass from Felipe Anderson to put the home side ahead.
Considering the situation, Lazio were thankful to head into the half time break 1-0 up and had no disillusions about what was needed in the second half, remaining resilient and holding onto their slim advantage.
Sarri’s side held on and grinded out the 1-0 win, allowing them to take a single step into the Round of 16 of the Conference League. The team showed character in the European encounter and will likely be hoping to carry this momentum into their next game against Salernitana, scheduled for Sunday 19th February.