Saturday Apr 29, 2017  
     
 
  06/08/2015: Preview: 2015 Supercoppa Italiana
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The traditional curtain-raiser to the Serie A season is almost upon us as Lazio prepare to do battle with Juventus in the 2015 Supercoppa Italiana. In what will be a repeat of the 2015 Coppa Italia - a game that will be remembered for being decided by millimetres - both Lazio and Juventus will hope for a smooth run to victory in the heat of Shanghai, China. Neither side, however, have had a smooth pre-season.
Let's begin with Lazio. Our summer can be summed up with a cliché - it's 'out with the old, in with the new'. Gone are the days when Stefano Mauri would look to break down defences while Cristian Ledesma stood at the other end to make sure our defence would not be broken down. We were being weaned off that Lazio towards the business end of last season and that has made it easier to come to terms with their departures, but it has created a little bit of apprehension. Igli Tare's policy of investing in our future has generated some additional buzz, but it has not eased worries over our short-term future. Pre-season has probably gone to plan in, but a series of disappointing results has put some more tension in the Roman air. It is perhaps telling that Lazio made the decision to spend much more time in China than Juventus; our 'postcards from Shanghai' on social media suggest the Supercoppa is being treated as an opportunity to unwind as much as anything else.

Lazio's issues exist only in the mind - perhaps only in my mind - as the nucleus of last season's successful Lazio team remains intact. The same cannot be said for Juventus, who have lost Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez. The Old Lady have added some firepower to their attack with the signings of Paulo Dybala, Simone Zaza and Mario Mandzukic, but they will not make up the deficit in the short-term, if ever. The 2014-15 season was the end of an era for Juventus; this will be a transitional season for them. They are vulnerable for the first time in years, and could be at their most vulnerable on Saturday as they have mini-injury crisis. Giorgio Chiellini, Sami Khedira and Alvaro Morata will be declared not fit and Andrea Barzagli is in a race against the clock.

Lazio have a few problems of their own. Marco Parolo's sending off in the 2-4 victory over Napoli on the final day off last season will keep him out of the Supercoppa, and an accumulation of yellows will relegate Senad Lulic to the stands also. That leaves Lazio thin in midfield, and uncertainty over the fitness of the two Stefans may have scuppered Stefano Pioli's plan to field a 3-4-3 - the 'anti-Juve' tactic - in this game. A 3-4-3 system would see Stefan Radu line-up in the left wing-back position and given the Romanian has missed the bulk of pre-season with an injury, it is unlikely he could do 90 minutes running up and down the flank. A back three would also cause Lazio to rely on Wesley Hoedt or Franjo Prce if Stefan de Vrij does not hold up, and that would be undesirable. In short, Pioli knows he is unlikely to get away with the 3-4-3 for 90 minutes and therefore it probably makes more sense to stick with what we are used to in the 4-3-3.

The 4-3-3 puts the focus on Ogenyi Onazi, who never got going last season having missed pre-season with an injury he picked up during the 2014 World Cup. Now somewhat of a hero after his historic goal against Napoli at the end of May, Pioli will be hoping that has given Onazi some confidence and momentum heading into the new season. In truth, the focus could be extended to the entire central-midfield area. Danilo Cataldi had an impressive half-season with Lazio, but it was a team that had the ball rolling and was afraid of no one. With the slate wiped clean, Cataldi has plenty to prove this season, as does Lucas Biglia for that matter. The Argentine took a massive step forward in performance last season, but if there are any doubts over him, it's his ability to get the job done in big games. Lazio faced Juventus three times last season and did best when Biglia was on the sidelines; with the captain's armband in tow now, this is where Lucas needs to stand up and be counted.

Elsewhere, Lazio will look very familiar. Filip Djordjevic will be stiff competition for Miroslav Klose this season, but an injury to the Serbian should guarantee the German starts. Barring injury, Klose will be flanked by Antonio Candreva and Felipe Anderson.

In defence, one of the true blessings of pre-season has been the trouble-free summer Santiago Gentiletti has endured. There is no doubt he is a key cog in Pioli's machine, and all being well, the Argentine will be partnered by de Vrij with Radu and Basta on either side. The major question back there is who will stand between the posts? Etrit Berisha was the 'cup goalkeeper' last season and this is a cup. If the agreement between Marchetti and Berisha remains in place, the Albanian will start. Training patterns suggest, however, that Marchetti will start. That's something to keep an eye on, both on Saturday and over the course of the season.

There is nothing like a good ol' rematch to get the season going and with a Champions League play-off around the corner for Lazio, this is where the cobwebs get blown away. A win would be a huge confidence boost in lieu of Pioli's mentality that every game is a game you try to win. Losing here against a vulnerable Juventus is far from the ideal preparation for a crunch tie in Europe, but there is no doubt the Bianconeri are favourites, if only on account of their name. This is a great opportunity for us, but we will have to be somewhere close to our best to leave Shanghai with silverware. Forza Lazio!

Predicted line-ups:

Juventus (3-5-2): Buffon; Bonucci, Barzagli, Caceres; Lichtsteiner, Sturaro, Marchisio, Pogba, Evra; Mandzukic, Dybala.

Lazio (4-3-3): Marchetti; Basta, de Vrij, Gentiletti, Radu; Onazi, Biglia, Cataldi; Candreva, Klose, Felipe Anderson.

Author: Cathal Mullan
 
 
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