Date: August 25 2011
Place: Philip II Arena, Skopje, Republic of Macedonia
The first leg of this qualifier started a little slow for Lazio, but after the first 90 minutes of this two-legged encounter this tie is decided. The Italians simply outclassed the opposition at home, and nothing points in the direction of the Macedonians being able to win their home game, let alone turn the results in their favour. Despite this, the game remains an intriguing one as the visitors have plenty of areas of the game that needs clarifications before the domestic season kicks off.
The Macedonians fielded a young team with lots of energy, but lacking quality and experience. After the first 20 minutes, where Dimitrievski in goal showed why he is sought after by European top clubs with numerous saves, Lazio showed superior and other than the six goals scored many more could have been added. The opposition did not match Serie A standards, and not many conclusions could be drawn after the first game. The Lazio defence was never tested, the midfield faced competition only during the first minutes of the game and the attack had a far too easy time getting to goal scoring opportunities and eventually finding the back of the net.
So, how can a more or less perfectly executed game leave questions marks behind?
The answer lies in the choice of players, and choice of tactics. Edoardo Reja decided to play Klose as a central striker, leaving Cisse out on either of the flanks. Hernanes and Mauri were deployed slightly behind Klose, forcing them to fall further out on either left or right than one would expect is desired for either of the two players. Ledesma had problems in finding good targets with his usually so splendid passes, and altogether the flow and security of Lazio left reasons for concern. Cisse showed he is a classy finisher with two great goals, but apart from that he left room for speculation over what qualities he holds. In his constant attempts of out-sprinting the opposition he looked old compared to the energetic Macedonians, and in his positions most supporters wondered why Mauro Zarate was left out, as the fan favourite could have used his dribbling skills to a great effect against the technically weaker oppositions. Added to that Klose, who was brought in mainly for tapping in goals, took the responsibility of setting up others rather than being served. It was not until the final minutes of the game, when Rocchi was brought in for Cisse, that Klose fully blossomed and found his position on the field with two goals scored between the dup in the last five minutes of the game.
With two central attackers the German added a dimension to his game, and the Lazio tactician must be having problems in deciding how to arrange his men. Apart from having more attackers than needed, something that has been commented on numerous occasions by the coach himself, he also needs to solve how to balance the midfield so that all players meet their full potential. That Ledesma and Brocchi are to take care of the more defensive duties are clear, but Mauri and Hernanes are both suffering from the current formation and the roles given. Last season both players were given time and space on the pitch as Zarate was the one getting most of the attention, but without the Argentinean, and with Cisse far out on mostly left, and sometimes right, the options become limited for the midfielders and against quality opposition Lazio will be easy to predict. Either they are forced to move away from the central department in order to get the ball, or they are stuck with the ball without any options to pass the ball. Overall the tactics becomes too predictable, something that other teams will be monitoring and making sure they benefit from when facing Lazio. A better opponent would have been able to exploit the gaps left, while Rabotnicki struggled to keep their team together against the superior Italian side.
The Macedonians have nothing but some pride to play for, and should hope that the visitors have other games in mind in order to win back some confidence. On the other hand, the domestic season is about to start for Lazio and many of the players should be eager to prove they should be considered as starters. Every minute that the players get together is valuable at this moment, hence everything points at the best eleven being fielded again. Worth noting though, is that Mauri and Brocchi both walked off the first leg injured, and might be rested in order to be fully fit for the upcoming games. The latest news from Formello state that both Cisse and Klose might miss the return, and that Bizzarri will replace Marchetti as the Italian is suspended for the first league game and Bizzarri will get the chance to get prepared for the weekend fixture.
The largest question mark, however, remains unanswered. The one player that most wonder about, Mauro Zarate, and his future is far from solved and another team selection leaving him out will further fuel speculations about him being on his way abroad. Was it not for the fact that this will be the last game before the start of the Serie A campaign most would have expected the second string players to start, but with the current situation we should expect both teams to give the game a fair shot.
Lazio: Bizzarri, Scaloni, Biava, Dias, Radu, Cana, Ledesma, Mauri, Hernanes, Rocchi, Kozak.
Rabotnicki: Dimitrievski, Bogdanovik, Glogorov, Kumbev, Lazarevski, Nastevski, Manevski, Vujcic, Petrovik, Velkoski, Petkovski