Place: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
”It is time to turn the page” said Reja as a response to how the team would approach the Coppa Italia clash against Hellas Verona. After a disappointing game against Chievo before the Christmas break Reja continuously gave interviews underlining the weak performance was a one off and that Lazio needed the break in order to get injured players back and some rest in order to challenge for a top position in the league. Once the team resumed training and later on had to face Siena everyone was expecting a Lazio ready to give the top teams a proper challenge. The outcome of the Siena game, a 4-0 loss and a humiliating display by all involved, has been discussed frequently the last few days and the 112th anniversary of the club very much came to be overshadowed by the shocking Saturday loss. Despite having more than half of the season left to play the general opinion has shifted from Lazio being a serious contender to Lazio being in a crisis. Napoli, Roma and Inter, three clubs that a few weeks ago were seen as underachieving, are all within three points margin and Lazio could see themselves outside the positions guaranteeing European football in a week. Therefore Coppa Italia can be seen as an option not only giving Lazio a trophy, but also a way to get access to Europa League. The first step towards this is a visit from an old powerhouse in Italian football: Hellas Verona.
A preview on a Lazio match these days have to include comments on the injuries. Since the Siena game, where Konko, Dias, Hernanes, Marchetti, Brocchi, Kozak, Mauri and Matizalem were all injured, also Cana and Scaloni have been added to the list of players sidelined for tomorrow’s game. Two of the three Brazilians are set to return and feature however, adding a little stability to the team for this game. Despite Dias and Hernanes returning the many injuries leave Reja with a very limited squad to choose from and the coach has already stated that half of the team will be changed compared to the eleven players responsible of the weakest display of the season. It seems as if the winter break did not only fail in bringing the injured players back to the field, but it also resulted in even more players becoming injured in some mysterious way.
On the contrary, the opponents of the evening are in high spirits. The Verona team has been impressive so far this season and might be returning to the glory days that saw the team being a regular in Serie A. Currently second in the Serie B standings, only one point short of league leaders Torino, and with half of the season played the gialloblu can start dreaming of a return to the top flight. In the cup the team has also been impressive and comes from a comfortable 2-0 win against Parma in Parma, having eliminated Vicenza and Sassuolo before that. Solid performances at the back have given the team the necessary stability to get away with wins despite not having a notorious and frequent goal scorer in the team. As an example no Hellas player is amongst the top 20 goal scorers of the league, despite having scored 29 goals in 21 games. So far the most impressive player is the Greek midfielder Panagiotis, but the team looks solid on all positions and has been performing well both at home and away. Lazio should be warned about the potential threat the opponents hold and Hellas should not expect to face a team underestimating the ability of the Serie B representatives.
It remains to be seen if Lazio, who enters the competition in this the round of 16, are up for the task or not. The coach has clearly stated that the loss in Siena should be blamed on him not having prepared the players well enough for the task, but also a number of players have been commenting the game and underlined the midweek fixture is a perfect chance of getting back to winning ways. Advancing to the next round would give Lazio either Milan or Novara in the quarter final, while a potential derby could be fought in the semi final if both Rome based clubs would make it that far. The fear is present that the many injuries, the dip in form and the fact that Lazio have been sub-par overall lately will result in a humiliating exit in the tournament against a lower ranked team and despite the game taking place only one day after the birthday of Rome’s first team, at Stadio Olimpico and Lazio currently finding themselves fourth in the league the anxiety and pressured atmosphere currently existing have turned this game into a more tense clash than it possibly could have been.
Lazio: Bizzarri, Cavanda, Diakite, Dias, Radu, Gonzalez, Ledesma, Lulic, Hernanes, Rocchi, Klose.
Hellas Verona: Rafael, Ceccarelli, Mareco, Cangi, Scaglia, Hallfredsson, Jorginho, Panagiotis, Ferrari, D’Allesandro, Gomez.