Game two in the group stage of the Europa League takes place on Thursday night at 19.00 CET at Stadio Olimpico for Lazio. The Italians welcome Maribor from Slovenia, the same league that produced Mura 05 which Lazio easily overcame to book a place in the main tournament.
The two teams have faced each other in European competitions before. In 1999 a star studded side overcame Maribor in two 4-0 games and demonstrated what was then a massive gap between the representatives of the two countries and leagues. Since then Maribor and the Slovenian league has developed greatly and the opposition this time around should be expected to be harder.
Last year the visitors managed one draw and five losses in their group stage adventure, but this year the team is already better off. In the opening game against Panthinaikos the Slovenian champions recorded a 3-0 win at home and looked sharp and ready to battle for one of the two spots taking them to the knock-out phase of the tournament. In the domestic league Mura is positioned last, while Maribor is occupying first place and have had a stable season so far at the top of the league.
Petkovic’s Lazio opened against Tottenham away. The game ended 0-0 and Lazio displayed a solid defence and managed to create a couple of chances up front. On paper the two teams going head to head in London are favourites to advance, especially with the Greek side being far away from the quality side they were some years ago. Saying that, Maribor have managed to produce an immense number of talents in the last few years all making it to bigger teams in more competitive leagues and Lazio have to stay alert to avoid a setback.
Two players that Lazio need to keep a close eye on are Ibraimi and Tavares. The Macedonian Ibraimi is a technically gifted playmaker who is also dangerous on set pieces and has an eye for goal, while Tavares is speedy and secure on the ball and has the leadership skills needed to guide his team to success. Many of the Slovenian players who are a part of the national team are today playing in other countries, with goalkeeper Handanovic, the brother to the previous Udinese and current Inter custodian, being the only player called up to the qualifiers the next week.
In the Lazio camp the questions being asked are mostly focused around the squad selection and if any of the players who have been used frequently in the hectic period that has passed will be rested ahead of the tense game against Pescara on Sunday. Petkovic has opted to play more or less the same eleven if all players have been available and voices are being aired that the tactician should also give some of the fringe players a chance to grow into the team. No new injuries have been picked up during the week and apart from the usual absentees the Bosnian has a healthy pool of players to choose from. The latest training session pointed at a quite large squad rotation for the game against Maribor.
Lastly, this affair has not attracted any larger numbers of crowds. On Tuesday evening not more than 4000 tickets had been sold, indicating how lowly the opposition is viewed. The game is a midweek fixture and with Roman means an early kick-off too, but everyone is hoping there will be a larger crowd turning up on Thursday. A win is more or less a must for Lazio despite it being very early in the competition and a crowd in good numbers will surely help the players with motivation as well as performance.
Possible line ups:
Lazio: Marchetti, Scaloni, Biava, Ciani, Cavanda, Cana, Onazi, Candreva, Ederson, Zarate, Floccari.
Maribor: Handanovic, Mejac, Trajkovski, Potokar, Rajcevic, Mezka, Mertelj, Cvijanovic, Tavares, Ibraimi, Beric.