Below is a league table that includes only results of 2011, following the winter break.
AC Milan 41
As you can see, Lazio would lie in 7th place which may or may not be good enough to sneak a Europa League place, depending on how things pan out in the Coppa Italia. However, what is more apparent is that Udinese have sailed off into the distance with Fiorentina and Roma overtaking us as recent results have seen us lose contention. In actual fact, we are spearheading a massive group of teams and unless we pick up points in our remaining games, we are going to end up firmly in the mid-table.
Thankfully, this is not the table but what it does show is that we are only just in better form than Cagliari, Genoa, Palermo and Parma. Only just in better form than a bunch of teams who have sacked their coaches this season.
Getting rid of Zio Edy might be a touch extreme but it is a question that has frequently been asked and answered on the LazioFever forum and one wonders if the recent refereeing controversies are clouding the real issues that are going on at Lazio? In my own personal opinion, suspensions, injuries and a series of tactical errors have hurt our campaign for the Champions League.
The most recent hit to our ambitions came against Juventus last weekend in a game where we peppered their goal with opportunities, should have won a penalty but ultimately fell to the luckiest of winners. Immediately, Claudio Lotito got himself into hot water, hinting at the idea of match-fixing while Reja also declared that players may have to be shot to earn penalties at the Olimpico. Although I, as a fan, was bitterly disappointed, hurt and angered, I couldn't help but feel that we needed Stefano Mauri in the midfield to give us that cutting edge he has so often provided this season. Looking at the stats, it appears that I may be right.
Stefano Mauri, Mauro Zarate, Sergio Floccari and Hernanes have started a total of 14 games this season together. In those 14 games, we have picked up a total of 27 points. In all of those 14 games, we have scored at least one goal.
As we fell to Juventus without finding the net, only one of the foursome was missing; Stefano Mauri. Against Udinese this weekend, he will once again be missing. It's a horrible omen.
Somehow, Edy Reja has to find a way to minimise the loss of Stefano. Prior to last weekend's game, I was adamant that without Mauri, the others would not tick and in my mind at least, that is exactly what happened. Much of it is to do with our strikeforce. Floccari and Zarate are not the most natural of strike partners. Both forwards like to play rather deep and run at opponents and both favour playing on the left side. This allows them both to link up nicely with Mauri, since he is also left-sided and often pushes very far forward. When Zarate and Floccari come deep and commit defenders, Stefano has the intelligence to look for space and put himself in a goalscoring position. When it is Stefano committing the defenders, he has the ability to play the ball at the right time; as soon as he sees Zarate and Floccari in the right place. Essentially, those three are on a wavelength and when they are not, Hernanes is normally there or thereabouts to pick up on the scraps. Don't believe me? See Catania. A 4-1 win. The goalscorers? Hernanes, Mauri, Floccari and Zarate.
Without Mauri, Hernanes is forced to tee up Zarate and Floccari with the chances. The two strikers naturally tend to go left, Hernanes generally goes right. Zarate and Floccari want the ball at their feet, Hernanes wants to shoot-on-sight. It just does not work as well. When it does, it is often through the pure genius of Hernanes. Against Juventus, Hernanes was human. The "B" plan failed.
Against Udinese, we will once again be reliant on Hernanes to conjure up something special unless we change our approach. A perfect alternative might be to play Sculli, who can play the Mauri role. His fitness levels are not the best but the last time he deputised for Mauri was against Palermo. In that game, he had Zarate, Hernanes and Floccari in support. In that game, he scored two goals in the opening twenty minutes.
Udinese will be the true test. A win will prove that we are European material and not mere beneficiaries of an incredibly start to our league campaign. A win will prove that we can find the net without our best players and that Edy Reja can find a quick solution to last weekend's problem. A win will prove that no amount of dodgy decision making will stop us in our quest to be in next season's Champion's League.
As reported by LazioLand.com, Antonio di Natale has said in no unspoken terms that only Lazio and Udinese deserve to finish in fourth. I couldn't agree with him more and I would hope that this weekend proves to be the deciding game.
I said before the Juventus game that a loss shouldn't hurt us. The league table still makes us favourites and I would like to think my Lazio will come out all cyclinders firing, determined to prove the doubters wrong, determined to find justice for the fans, determined to share a stage with the European greats. As an added incentive, Lotito has promised everyone involved a bonus totalling two million euro. There can be no more excuses.
Are we good enough? Are we ambitious enough? Is Edy Reja the man to lead us into the future? I believe you will have your answers on Sunday afternoon.