In the first knock-out stage of Europa League Lazio welcome Atletico Madrid to Stadio Olimpico in the first leg of an intriguing encounter. The tournament might not be the finest in Europe, but all teams involved at this point would gladly see their club advance and become champions and lift the trophy. The match up of the two teams does have one ingredient making this encounter even more interesting to follow, and that is the coach who took over the Spanish team mid-season and who once used to play for the Italian side: Diego Simeone.
Lazio have had the longest break between matches in a long time, where last Thursday’s win over Cesena where the Romans managed to turn a 2-0 loss around to a 3-2 despite being one man down was the last game played. Since then coach Reja has had the time to work on the weak spots of the team, while some of the injured players have managed to get back to training, while others simply have been given the chance to catch their breath after a series of challenging games.
Atletico Madrid, who started the season miserable and saw themselves close to the relegation spots despite investing quite heavily in the summer transfer market, have since Simeone entered the bench not conceded one single goal. The Spaniards have managed to advance in the league and the mental impact that Simeone has had on his team leaves one wondering how good they really are. The side played Udinese in the group stages, suffering a 2-0 loss on matchday three, but has since then won their games in EL and is now looking to advance to the next round by keeping the number of goals conceded at the same standard as they have up until now and under the current coach.
When it comes to players Reja will have to be without important pieces such as Dias, Radu and Lulic, the Bosnian who has taken the Biancocelesti supporters by storm this season, will most probably be rested. With Matuzalem staying healthy for a while the preferred formation, 4-2-3-1, will again be utilized and Lazio will be looking at keeping a clean sheet and possibly getting a goal or two to travel with to Madrid for the next round. In defense, the department where the team has suffered most when having regular starters injured, will again look like the weakest part on the pitch. Only Konko out on the right will be recognized from the usual four, and the rest of the backline consisting of Stankevicius, Diakite and Zauri will force Marchetti to be at his very best if Lazio are looking to create a decent chance of advancing from the two games.
Main concern for the home team will be Colombia born star-striker Radamel Falcao, who the club paid in the region of €40 million to acquire in the summer. In 19 games in La Liga the player has managed to score 14 goals, in his first season in the Spanish league that is, and will be the one player the Lazio defenders have to keep a close eye on. The loanee goalkeeper Courtois is another player to watch carefully, as well as midfielder Diego and Arda Turan, who all have become integral pieces of Simeone’s team building. The Spanish side is unbeaten in the last six games and in the process no goal has been conceded; facts warning Lazio well enough of the tough challenge that lies ahead if the Italian side want to continue their journey through Europe.
Lazio: Marchetti, Konko, Diakite, Stankevicius, Zauri, Matuzalem, Ledesma, Gonzalez, Hernanes, Candreva, Klose.
Atletico Madrid: Courtois, Juanfran, Perrea, Soto, Kasmirski, Tiago, Gabi, Adrian, Diego, Turan, Falcao.