The doors were closed for Lazio fans on Thursday evening, but it didn’t affect the players as Lazio secured their passage to the quarter-finals with a 3-1 (5-1 agg) victory over VfB Stuttgart. Reaching the last eight of the Europa League is a huge achievement, considering Lazio are the first Italian team to do it since its re-branding.
Disastrous league form of late has been partly accepted by the fans considering their glorious Europa League campaign up to now. Defeat last weekend at the hands of Fiorentina meant that Lazio had won just one match since the middle of January.
Since the start of the year, Lazio’s form has been that of a relegation candidate. Lazio fans were quick to dismiss claims that without top goal-scorer Miroslav Klose, Lazio would struggle to fight for the top spots in Serie A.
In the seven league matches played since the absence of Klose began, Lazio have managed to pick up just five points, three of those against lowly Pescara. It is a cause for concern as the Biancoceleste have slipped to fifth in the standings compared to the comfortable top three stance they occupied when the German was match fit.
Beyond Klose, Sergio Floccari and Libor Kozak doesn’t look like too bad of a pairing on paper. Floccari has tried his best to compensate for the goals Klose would have scored, yet Libor Kozak has seemingly been continuously off-form when appearing in the league.
Kozak though, has fired in eight goals so far in the Europa League. It seems the shackles are off the Czech striker when on the European stage, and his goals have guided Lazio into the last eight where they will now face a tricky two-legged tie with Turkish giants Fenerbahçe.
It really is a mystery as to why Kozak can fire with ease in Europe, yet struggle to find the net in Serie A. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that Kozak is shy of goals in the league, the player is just 23 years of age, and given time I think he could be a huge asset to the club in the future.
Kozak should be given the chance ahead of Floccari this weekend when Lazio travel to Torino. I believe that the youngster should have played against Fiorentina, but the coach opted for Floccari instead. The confidence Kozak has built up of late can only mean that league goals are just around the corner.
Another interesting factor about Thursdays Europa League win, was that Lazio did it with a number of changes made once again. Andre Dias, Cristian Ledesma, and Alvaro Gonzalez were all rested, and it only went to prove that Lazio do have enough depth to rotate their squad successfully, and cannot use the excuse of tiredness.
League form has continued to falter at the expense of a great cup-run, but Petkovic stated “I don’t want to use the Europa League as an excuse. Of course that is part of it, but players of this level must put the effort in for every single game against any opponent. We also conceded two avoidable goals. Even without playing particularly well, we still had our chances, and just lacked that energy that comes with belief.”
Form needs to be re-ignited now if the club are to make a push for a top three finish. With ten matches remaining, it does look as if Lazio have the hardest run-in compared to their fellow challengers, but with the return of Klose expected in two weeks, Petkovic will be glad to have the German back into the squad for the most crucial part of the campaign.
Lazio are faced with a tough task of travelling north to Torino on Sunday evening, and have no choice but to pick up three points if they are to keep up the pace with Milan. A top three finish was the objective this term, and that hope is still alive providing they can shake of that Europa League hangover.