Lazio have succumbed to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Sassuolo in a game that will be best remembered for an appalling refereeing decision from Marco Guida.
Lazio started the game with real purpose and intent, passing the ball around with ease and probing a Sassuolo defence which looked vulnerable, but the game was turned on its head after 7 minutes. Paolo Cannavaro pushed the ball past Senad Lulic in the penalty area and realising he would not be able to do anything with it, threw himself to the ground and staked a penalty claim, which Guida bought much to the dismay of the Bosnian. Domenico Berardi made no mistake from the spot and Lazio had it all to do.
It is difficult to evaluate a game upon which the referee has had a huge impact. It would be very easy to conclude that Lazio missed key individuals today, but it was a game we were forced to chase through no fault of our own, and with a rather youthful central-midfield trident of Ogenyi Onazi, Danilo Cataldi and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, it was going to be a difficult task regardless of how well they played.
Antonio Candreva was the first to take the bull by the horns, flashing a good cross for Milinkovic-Savic who managed to get in front of his man and find the crossbar with his head. Minutes later, Sime Vrsaljko had to make a last ditch interception as Miroslav Klose looked to connect with another Candreva cross and even things up. The early signs were that Lazio were by no means out of this game.
As the half wore on, however, errors began to creep into the younger players' game. Danilo Cataldi and Ogenyi Onazi fluffed their lines on a couple of occasions, but it was a misplaced Milinkovic-Savic pass that put us at most risk, setting Sassuolo free on the counter. Federico Marchetti risked the wrath of the referee, coming out of his box and beating the towering Diego Falcinelli to the header. It was a heart-in-mouth moment, but one where you could give him the benefit of the doubt, although a later attempt to pinch the ball of Falcinelli was less assured.
Milinkovic-Savic was undoubtedly the greatest attacking threat in the first half, but some of his decisions showed his inexperience at this level. He saw yellow for a shove on Cannavaro, tried an ambitious shot from outside the box that was never on, and fired a shot from an almost impossible angle against Andrea Consigli when completely free in a good area. While the Serbian deserves praise for his contribution - particularly as he ran 6.5km in the opening half - this is the game where it became abundantly clear that he is far from the finished article. Having more potential to unlock is not a bad thing.
Having ran himself into the ground and picked up a yellow for his troubles, Milinkovic-Savic could perhaps have been sacrificed at half-time, but Stefano Pioli hauled off Ogenyi Onazi in favour of Keita Balde Diao. Keita undoubtedly changed the game as Sassuolo were simply incapable of dealing with the direct threat he posed, but the substitution gave Sassuolo more of the ball in central areas and they were able to double their lead before Keita had an impact. Simone Missiroli was the goalscorer, tucking home a crossed ball that had fallen perfectly for him after a shot had been blocked by Dusan Basta.
Sassuolo could easily have been three-nil up as Falcinelli hit the crossbar moments after they had collected their second, but Lazio were given hope when Keita Balde Diao bamboozled the Sassuolo backline and passed unselfishly to an onrunning Felipe Anderson who applied the simplest of finishes.
Lazio now had momentum, but they couldn't do anything with it. With Lucas Biglia and Marco Parolo out through injury and Ogenyi Onazi on the bench, Pioli could not introduce the fresh legs needed in midfield for Lazio to kick on. Instead, it was Sassuolo who found a second wind when Karim Laribi and Gregoire Defrel came on. The game petered out and ended disappointingly for us as one of the final contributions to the game was Danilo Cataldi picking up his second yellow card. The smart money would have been on Milinkovic-Savic who got away with foul after foul - point is, Lazio appeared destined to end up with less than eleven men at the final whistle.
All things considered, this was a game where the referee had too much of an impact on the final result. Lazio probably played as well as they did in games gone by, but that could be attributed to the evolution of this particular game. More could be reasonably expected anyway, and more will be needed to get back to winning ways. Forza Lazio.
Player Ratings: Marchetti (5.5); Basta (5.5), Mauricio (5.0), Gentiletti (6.0), Lulic (6.5); Cataldi (4.5), Onazi (6.0); Candreva (6.0), Milinkovic-Savic (6.0), Felipe Anderson (6.5); Klose (5.5). Subs: Keita (6.5), Matri (5.5), Kishna (n/a).