Sunday Sep 24, 2017  
     
 
  15/04/2015: What would it take to enter Europe's elite?
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Goalkeeper

Perhaps controversial, but if Lazio are serious about stepping up in quality, then we simply have to invest in a new goalkeeper. Federico Marchetti is in the process of returning to his old self, but his early season form was poor and he is more injury-prone than most goalkeepers and at the age of 32, he is probably not going to get any better. Etrit Berisha has been excellent except for that one time he failed to deal with the ferocious shot of Gonzalo Higuain. Even the best make mistakes – Manuel Neuer had two howlers in the one game recently – but Berisha remained the number two at Lazio even when Marchetti was making errors of his own. Why was Pioli reluctant to hand Berisha the gloves? You have to wonder.

The Albanian has often made his desire to be number one known in the past, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he will move on in the summer and Lazio should take advantage of that opportunity. There are usually a whole host of Italian goalkeepers at lesser clubs waiting for the chance to play at a higher level and in the past, Lazio have had a real knack of finding them but other than Mattia Perin, no one stands out. If push came to shove, Parma’s Antonio Mirante could be a marriage of convenience.

Lazio have been linked to Saint Etienne’s French international Stephane Ruffier and at the age of 28, he would arrive with a big reputation and would offer more longevity than Marchetti. Another candidate would be Ruffier’s compatriot Benoit Costil. The Rennes goalkeeper has forced his way into the French setup with a string of top class performances and would in all likelihood be the more affordable option.

Left-back

Lazio have invested heavily in the defence and reaped their rewards, but the left-back position is a cause for concern going forward. Stefan Radu has been the weak link in the Lazio backline all season. The Romanian’s performances at the beginning of the season were insufficient enough for Edson Braafheid to take over duties, prior to a long spell on the sidelines. With European football virtually guaranteed next season, it is questionable whether either player will hold up under the additional strain of midweek games.

Senad Lulic featured at left-back in the impressive 4-0 victory over Empoli and if required, there is no doubt he will post a threat going forward but his defensive game may not stand up to scrutiny week in week out. Allowing Edson Braafheid to go to facilitate the arrival of a higher class deputy is certainly an option, but can Radu be relied upon? Has he ever impressed in a Lazio side which fires in all cylinders? Arguably our best player in that horrendous 2009-10 season where he was often utilised at centre-back and a potent weapon during Vladimir Petkovic’s darker days, but far from one of our best players when the going is good. Radu is either complacent, or consistent but not capable at the highest level.

Santiago Gentiletti is a very capable left-back and with Mauricio holding his own in the Lazio defence, that may be something worth exploring in the summer, otherwise Lazio may need to venture into the market with affordable candidates few and far between. One interesting candidate would be OGC Nice’s Jordan Amavi. The 21 year-old is making waves and has the perfect game for Lazio, and Igli Tare has already seen him play in a friendly against Lazio in 2013.

Centre-back

This might appear strange giving the wealth of options that Lazio have available to them, but Lorik Cana, Diego Novaretti and Michael Ciani are more likely to be plying their trade for another club come August. Whether Lazio feel the need to delve into the market or not is a question only the management could answer, but Stefan de Vrij, Mauricio, Gentiletti and the inexperienced Wesley Hoedt looks too thin for three competitions.

Mauricio’s ability to play on either side gives Lazio some flexibility in the market, but whoever comes in must either play second fiddle to Stefan de Vrij or challenge Mauricio and Gentiletti for a starting berth. Someone who has caught the eye in the last 12 months is Club Brugge’s Oscar Duarte. Not content with leading Costa Rica into the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, the 25 year-old has led his Belgian club to the same stage of the 2014-15 Europa League. Lazio will need to be patient with both Gentiletti and Hoedt next season and having someone of Duarte’s calibre on board would ease the pressure on those players.

Vice-Biglia

Lazio’s midfield has been a little thin since Alvaro Gonzalez departed for Torino on loan and with Cristian Ledesma announcing his departure from Lazio this summer via his agent, there will be a need to find a suitable back-up for Lucas Biglia. The most obvious candidate comes from within Lazio’s ranks – Ogenyi Onazi excelled in this role for the Primavera and has always looked more comfortable keeping matters simple in the middle of the park than he has breaking down opposition plays. Pioli has recognised Onazi’s ability to play there, but the Nigerian has not featured in that role and the two parties will either go their separate ways or Onazi will remain as utility player for another season.

Allowing Ledesma to leave on a free is a bold decision. Yes, Cristian’s style of play is not well-matched with Pioli’s philosophy, but a better back-up will cost a significant amount of money. Within Italy, Empoli’s Mirko Valdifiori might be an option. Lazio have a good relationship with the club and the Italian international has a game worthy of consideration, but the asking price – possibly in the eight-figure region – could be too steep. On the continent, there are plenty of potential ‘vice-Biglia’ candidates, but it is difficult to assess their suitability for this specific role in Serie A.

Striker

Miroslav Klose and Filip Djordjevic have been more than adequate this season. The German has a new lease of life now that he is free from international commitments and he is turning in performances that are rolling back the years. Djordjevic formed a formidable relationship with Antonio Candreva and was in the Capocannoniere race before breaking his leg. The Serbian is set to return before the end of the season and will surely have opportunities to enhance his reputation.

Relying on Klose on Djordjevic next season would be a mistake. According to data gathered by the CIES observatory, Klose has been the most ineffective Lazio regular in terms of acquiring results. In simpler terms, Klose appears to be a player Lazio can afford to miss as Lazio have had no problem picking up points this season when the German has been absent. There are not enough superlatives for the ex-Bayern Munich forward, but it is difficult to see him having the same impact next season with a European campaign on the agenda. Djordjevic is a capable understudy, but given the nature of his leg injury, we should perhaps expect an underwhelming second season. Brayan Perea suffered a similar injury in the final training session of the 2013-14 season and the club decided to loan him out for his own good, and he did not perform. They will not be confident about Djordjevic’s prospects, even if they expect him to fare better than Perea did in Perugia.

Lazio tried to sign Gonzalo Bergessio in the January transfer window, but we should expect Igli Tare to set his sights a little higher in the summer. In recent seasons, our Director of Sport has focused on prolific goalscorers in other leagues. The performances of Red Bull Salzburg’s Jonathan Soriano cannot be ignored and he has enough experience under his belt to be a frontrunning candidate. Another option is Rayo Vallecano’s Alberto Bueno. A free agent in the summer, he has shown a keen eye for the goal in La Liga this season bagging 16 in total thus far. Napoli were said to be interested before Rafa Benitez’s future became uncertain, Palermo are still linked with the striker, but it is Lazio that should be doing the enquiring.

Author: Cathal Mullan
 
 
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