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  22/08/2014: Preview: Lazio - Bassano Virtus
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A word of caution: if you throw on your Lazio jersey with a pair of Diesel jeans before sitting down to watch Lazio host Bassano Virtus in the Coppa Italia this Sunday, then be aware that you are supporting both sides with your choice of apparel.

Bassano Virtus - owned by Diesel founder and jeans mogul Renzo Rosso - will arrive at the Stadio Olimpico for this third round tie having already eliminated their provincial counterparts, Vicenza and one of the favourites for promotion to Serie A in Livorno. Not bad for a side who are newly-promoted to the re-established Serie C, and the feat is all the more impressive considering they managed it on their travels.

This tie is therefore anything but a foregone conclusion. Juventus would be proud to put four goals past Livorno on the road, never mind Bassano Virtus. The confidence the visitors will carry into this game will be huge and will, to some extent, make up for the very obvious gulf in quality between the two sides.

Stefano Pioli will have to take this game very seriously, but he knows that. Pioli will remember his short-lived spell at Palermo when he was sacked only months into the job by the ever-patient Maurizio Zamparini having lost a Europa League qualifier to the little fancied FC Thun. Obviously this game is much easier on paper, but lessons are there to be learned and Pioli has to prove those lessons have indeed been learned.

Pioli will have one eye on the Serie A opener against AC Milan and he will undoubtedly see this as a final opportunity to test out his tactical methods. The late arrival of those who participated in the World Cup and the arrival of defensive recruit Santiago Gentiletti further complicates matters. Pioli cannot get away from the fact that difficult decisions are to be made ahead of this encounter.

Organising the defence is the primary concern. If there are two locks in Lazio 2014-15, they are the two Stefans; Radu and De Vrij. Despite media speculation that he may have a centre-back role this season, the Romanian has not ventured beyond left-back in pre-season and is favoured over Edson Braafheid. As for De Vrij, you don't pay that much money for someone and consider alternatives. The defence will be built around the Dutchman.

Abdoulay Konko's back injury ensures Dusan Basta will be handed his competitive debut at right-back. That would have been a tough call, but the big decision hs ended up being the choice between Gentiletti and Cana. The Argentine is fit and ready and currently seen as De Vrij's long-term partner. Considering the quality of the opposition, Pioli must surely throw the Copa Libertadores winner in at the deep end.

In between the sticks, Federico Marchetti is expected to start. Everyone knows that this is essentially a choice between an out-of-form match winner and someone who is solid but unspectacular. Marchetti has made some very evident errors in pre-season, but you would expect Pioli to back him unless the errors persist.

In midfield, Marco Parolo should make his competitive debut on the right of the midfield trio while Danilo Cataldi should also receive his competitive debut on the left. Cataldi has come on leaps and bounds in pre-season and it is very easy to keep the faith in him against such opposition, but expect Senad Lulic to make that role his own as the season progresses.

In the holding role, we will see either Lucas Biglia or Cristian Ledesma. Many expected Pioli to field Ledesma and Biglia alongside each other in midfield, but they have not played in the same team at any stage in pre-season. It was clear in Stefano Pioli's first press conference as Lazio manager that he has a massive man crush on Biglia, and if he is serious about diminishing Ledesma's undeniable influence on this team, then he needs to start Biglia sooner rather than later. The World Cup runner-up may struggle to last 90 minutes, but he will get a good 60 or 70 before Ledesma is brought on to close out the game, if of course the scoreline is favourable to Lazio.

In attack, Filip Djordjevic should make his - you've guessed it - competitive debut and he is likely to be flanked by Stefano Mauri on the left and Antonio Candreva on the right. Mauri's chances could be limited this season, but Bassano Virtus gives Pioli an opportunity to underline the importance of the captain on day one of the season.

Another factor in Pioli's likely decision to favour the more experienced wing-players is the need to cool expectations. Impressive performances of Keita and Felipe Anderson in a landslide victory would send expectations through the roof for Milan. Limiting them to cameo roles at best here would limit the expectations. Expect the legend that is Miroslav Klose to also receive a run out at some point with the beginning of the Serie A season fast approaching. He needs those minutes.

So many options, so few spaces. This will be the story of the 2014-15 Lazio season, and Pioli will live and die by the decisions he makes. That being said, even if Pioli gets all the decisions wrong this weekend, Lazio should still progress into the fourth round of the Coppa Italia. Then again, we thought we'd be playing Livorno this weekend.

You know what the say about 'assume' making arses out of something or other. Lazio must get the job done on the night. No excuses.

Predicted line-up:
(4-3-3): Marchetti; Basta, De Vrij, Gentiletti, Radu; Parolo, Ledesma, Cataldi; Candreva, Djordjevic, Mauri.


Author: Cathal Mullan
 
 
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