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  30/11/2014: Coppa Italia Preview: Lazio - Varese
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Lazio welcome Varese to the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday for the fourth round of the Coppa Italia with a quarter-final tie with Torino on the horizon for the eventual winners. For Lazio, it is another entry route into the Europa League and a good opportunity to give some playing time to those who have found limited space in the first team this season. For Varese, it is an opportunity to exact revenge for a game that took place in the 1981-82 season.

Although Lazio are undoubtedly the better team on paper nowadays, that has not always been the case. Lazio were relegated to Serie B in the 1979-80 following a betting scandal, and as we approached the end of the 1981-82 season, we were mid-table in Serie B while Varese were on the verge of promotion to Serie A. With two rounds left to go in the Serie B campaign, Varese arrived in Rome knowing that victory against Lazio would put them in the driving seat.

Varese got off to a flier. Their two forwards, Turchetta and Bongiorni grabbed a goal apiece in the opening 15 minutes, but Vincenzo D'Amico got Lazio back into the game with a penalty and he added a second and a third to put an end to Varese's promotion hopes. Varese did beat us the following season, but it meant very little as Lazio were about to achieve promotion to Serie A. Lazio fell back into Serie B two season later, but Varese slipped down to Serie C1 in the same season and Lazio and Varese have not been in the same division since.

Although many of the Varese players were not born 32 years ago, you can be sure the story of that fateful game on 6 June 1982 will act as motivation for the current generation. Varese have not been the same team since, but they are back in Serie B now and have a golden opportunity to pull off the mother of all shocks and in the process, put themselves back on the Italian map by sealing a spot in the quarter-final of the Coppa Italia.

I say golden opportunity as Lazio are not playing well against teams who could well be playing Varese in Serie B next season, and with only a three-day turnaround, Stefano Pioli has little choice but to rotate his entire squad. The players took a flight back from Verona late on Saturday night and training was scheduled for 10am on Sunday morning, so that gives you an insight into our approach to the game. In fact, the entire squad slept at Formello, so even those who did not see any action in the Chievo game will be feeling less than 100% you read this preview.
The manager is expected to make 11 changes for this encounter. If he could make 12, he probably would, but with our injury crisis, making 11 changes will be a difficult task in itself.

Etrit Berisha will start between the posts, and if the latest reports are accurate, the four-man defence in front of him will be made up of midfielders and injured defenders. Lorik Cana should start at centre-back partnering Diego Novaretti with his dodgy knee. Abdoulay Konko may not be 100%, but he is closer to that figure than Bruno Pereirinha or Luis Pedro Cavanda, so he should feature on the left with Alvaro Gonzalez getting the nod at right-back.

In midfield, this is an ideal opportunity for Pioli to give Ogenyi Onazi and Cristian Ledesma some playing time, so we can expect him to avail of it. Danilo Cataldi would be in line for a start but for his hamstring strain, so it is likely we will instead see Ederson played in a deeper role than we are used to seeing him in.

In attack, Miroslav Klose is likely to be flanked by the youthful duo of Keita Balde Diao and Felipe Anderson. Given his poor performance against Chievo Verona, there is a chance Filip Djordjevic will retain his place with Klose spared for the Parma game, which will be more difficult in theory, although given Parma's form at present, perhaps not.

Should any player who started on Saturday evening start once again on Tuesday, we can interpret it as a sign that they will not feature at the weekend. It's a big ask for any player to play three times in a week that involves relatively long journeys to Verona and Parma, and Pioli has stated in the past that he does what he can to avoid playing individuals three times in one week. With that in mind, look out for some potential debutants coming off the bench ; there is a Primavera game on Wednesday so call-ups for Primavera players may be limited, but if Pioli can get away without playing any of his favoured eleven and give an opportunity to a youngster or two instead, I am sure he will take it.

Varese arrive in this Coppa Italia tie without a win in four as they languish perilously close to the Serie B drop zone, but we should not underestimate them. They have a nice mix of youth and experience and they boast the once highly-rated Arturo Lupoli in their ranks - he will surely relish the big occasion.

The Varese captain is a 35 year-old Brazilian who, having spent the bulk of 10 years playing amateur football in the small town Gradisca d'Isonzo, has shown himself to be very capable of banging them in in Serie B also. Not quite Dario Hubner, but you can see similarities (he even has a fetching goatee).

They also have Catania forward Bruno Petkovic on loan, as well as a 22 year-old forward called Luca Miracoli. You know what they say - miracoli do happen - and if Varese happen to knock Lazio out of the Coppa Italia with a guy called Petkovic and a Brazilian fellow who has spent most of his life playing in Serie D, cue the clever headline in Wednesday's edition of Corriere dello Sport.

Predicted line-up:
Lazio (4-3-3): Berisha; Gonzalez, Novaretti, Cana, Konko; Onazi, Ledesma, Ederson; Felipe Anderson, Klose, Keita.

Author: Cathal Mullan
 
 
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