They say if you fail to prepare then you should prepare to fail and Lazio did exactly that yesterday evening. After a decent opening period, Lazio conceded inexcusably from a set-piece situation and our own failure to convert from a set-piece at the other end saw Juventus double the lead as we began our spectacular collapse.
Yesterday evening reminded me of a particular game from last season - Genoa's 3-2 victory against us in February. In that game, we conceded relatively early from a set-piece situation as the delivery evaded our entire defence and eventually ended up at the feet of Marco Borriello who fired the ball high into the roof of the net. A second was added soon after by Andrea Bertolacci who exploited a significant gap in our midfield to double the lead. Petkovic had opted for 3-5-2 that day and had Ledesma in a more advanced role which goes some way to explaining why Lazio were two down in no time.
Thanks to Sergio Floccari and Stefano Mauri, Lazio turned the game around only to throw away a valuable point from another set-piece and it was this that set alarm bells ringing in my mind. A simple throw in was flicked on into the danger area and Marco Rigoni was left unmarked to simply glance the ball beyond a hapless Marchetti.
It was a makeshift defence that day with Radu, Cana and Ciani, but one week later - with Biava and Dias reinstated to the backline - Lazio gifted Napoli a point as Hugo Campagnaro was left completely unmarked on a corner to guide a volley into the net. Lazio were completely caught out as Marchetti was still issuing instructions as the ball was being put into the box.
These inadequacies when defending set-pieces have cost us vital points and yesterday evening, it cost us silverware. I was worried when Pirlo stepped up to take the free-kick that led to the Old Lady's opener. Pirlo is a set-piece specialist and the fear was clear to see in Marchetti's eyes as he furiously commanded his troops into position. Sadly, there was no soldier on Lichtsteiner who was left completely unmarked and his deflected cross found Paul Pogba who had the time and space to open the scoring. It is the type of goal that makes a coach want to tear his hair out and I was surprised to see Petkovic had managed to retain his trademark grey hair.
It is very easy to blame Radu, who presumably should have been looking for Lichtsteiner. It is very easy to blame Marchetti, who either did not see Lichtsteiner or chose to leave him be. It is very easy to blame our 11 men, none of whom decided to do anything about the Swiss full-back. In truth, however, it is Petkovic's fault. There is no evidence from training that he prepares extensively for set-piece situations and it became obvious a long time ago that Marchetti is no expert in marshaling his defence. Pjanic's derby goal last season sticks out as a fine example of that. As coach, Petkovic should have identified the problem and ushered in a solution and he should have done this a very long time ago.
I remember reading an interview with Rafael van der Vaart back when he was at Tottenham and he was asked how Harry Redknapp managed to bring out the best in him. Rafael said that Harry was refreshingly simple - 15 minutes before the game, he told you your position, who you were marking on set-pieces and wished you luck. The most basic preparation can win you football games and Lazio neglected that fact yesterday. From where I was sitting, the free-kick looked slightly out of Pirlo's comfort zone and I was expecting him to improvise and show a touch of imagination. We just made it ridiculously easy for him.
The second goal was conceded on the counter but we allowed it to happen by setting ourselves up incorrectly in attacking the corner we won prior to the counter-attack. Usually, Candreva takes the corner, Ledesma stays back with the other defensive midfielder and Dias and Biava go forward. In recent times, we've added Radu to the mix and this has always been a little too offensive for my liking. We saw a marked improvement in converting set-piece opportunities last season but we also saw the weakness in that plan - Catania's 4-0 win springs to mind when they scored on the counter in the exact same fashion as Chiellini did yesterday.
However, yesterday's corner was a more severe offence. As Biglia took the corner, we sent Candreva into the box to attack it. This left us a man short at the back and it became a 2-on-1 situation rather than 2-on-2. This is inexplicable and it seriously makes me wonder if Petkovic is issuing any instructions on set-pieces at all. There are signs that he allows the players to do as they please when it comes to set-pieces - I was critical of Candreva taking a penalty from Hernanes last season and using the opportunity to produce a stunning panenka. These are things that old fashioned coaches like Harry Redknapp stamp out of players as they know from experience that it will come back to bite you in the backside at some point. The coach is supposed to coach but it seems to me that Petkovic has given the players too much freedom to be their own coaches. When it comes to the very basics of the game, it looks as though the players are making their own calls and that is the one area where Petkovic simply has to be in control.
Many of us, myself included, cited physical and mental fatigue as a key factor in our decline last season and although I still believe it played a part, I think it has become clear over the summer that there is a more serious underlying issue. Petkovic and the players are not in sync and the players have this false belief in themselves. Petkovic needs to get tough with his players - it is all fine and well having this incredible unity in the dressing room but when it comes with over-confidence as Petkovic noted in his press conference after the game - it is a recipe for disaster. Conceding a third and a fourth yesterday suggests Juventus may have had the upper hand anyway, but giving away two avoidable goals against the best team in the country was the equivalent of handing over the Supercoppa.
Petkovic may have the team under control - but he showed yesterday that he is not in control.