Despite securing a draw away to the current Serie A champions, Lazio's display against AC Milan was far from a perfect performance. It was the first game of a season which has taken longer than normal to get underway due to the players' strike and frankly, you could tell. Both sides produced moments of individual brilliance but neither side looked up to speed and by the end of the ninety minutes, Milan and Lazio had nothing left to give with one eye on their respective European competitions which commence this week. Match fitness will be found quickly with the busy schedule throwing up a number of opportunities to get the juices going again.
It is therefore all the more impressive that Djibril Cisse was able to keep going for the duration of the game. In light of the French forward's arrival in Rome, there have been insinuations that we have bought someone who is lazy, injury-prone and generally unreliable. He did look a touch lethargic at times but then again, everyone did and Cisse was unique in that he still had plenty to give when five minutes of stoppage time was announced at the end of the second half. By now, Miroslav Klose had been replaced having looked ridiculosuly jaded from the offset and Stefano Mauri, who produced a scintillating performance in the opeming half was also sitting comfortably on the bench having visibly run out of gas on the field.
Ironically, this attribute to find that little bit more when the fuel reads low reminded me of the recently departed Mauro Zarate and I must admit, it was not the only similarity I could draw between the two players. In his three seasons at Lazio, Zarate was always capable of the sublime but tended to infuriate rather than exhilarate and was often left to simply fulfil the role that the coach had given him and pick up his pay cheque at the end of the month. Perhaps that is a cold and callous viewpoint but Zarate did a job for Lazio and he did it admirably. Under Edy Reja, he couldn't shine like we all knew he could but with his pace and ability on the ball, he gave defences much to think about and his teammates bags of space to punish the opposition. Although Djibril Cisse is not the same sort of player, I believe he is ultimately going to assume a similar role. Essentially, he is playing the same position as Zarate did last season in Reja's 4-2-3-1 formation and with his speed and tendency to be incredibly direct, he will carry out the same job as the Argentine. For me, the only difference is that Cisse tends to be explosive on a more regular basis and that is more than likely the consistent element that Zio Edy craves. Cisse guarantees goals.
It was Cisse's explosiveness and goalscoring promise that got us a result against Milan. After Klose sensationally gave us the lead, Cisse doubled the scoreline with a glancing header from a pinpoint Mauri cross. I could not put the same confidence in Mauro Zarate to produce the goods from that position and with that in mind, Cisse undeniably gives us an extra dimension in our attacking game. His ability in the air is rivalled by few in the modern game and having him in the box pitted against the rather diminutive Milan backline certainly played into our hands.
In saying that, Cisse's very direct style of play also hurt us against Milan. There was a moment midway in the first half where Cisse capitalised on a rare mix-up between Gennaro Gattuso and ex-Lazio centre-back Alessandro Nesta and found himself in the 18-yard box, positioned to trouble Christian Abbiati. In a better position though was Miroslav Klose, who had peeled away from the last defender and had kept himself onside in anticipation of a pass from the Frenchman. Cisse had other ideas though and fired straight into the hands of Abbiati. Television replays show that Cisse never looked up. If he did, would he have passed to Klose or would he have fired at goal regardless? I suspect the latter would be the correct answer to that question although the former would undoubtedly have increased the odds on the desired result. One of the dangers with Cisse was highlighted in that very moment. It may sound stupid, but he is potentially too direct.
A similar situation occurred in the second half. Cisse's blistering pace took him beyond Abbiati and staring at an open goal with only Nesta in close proximity. In a sense, Cisse was too eager though and having easily burst past the Milan goalkeeper, he couldn't control his excitement at the situation he found himself in. He failed to connect with the ball properly as Nesta threw himself at both ball and body and got enough on both to steer the ball around the post for a corner. It was exceptional defending from Nesta, but Cisse could and should have done better. That would have put Lazio back in the lead and with time ticking on the clock, Milan would have felt serious pressure in their quest to find an equaliser. A goal would have put Lazio firmly in pole position for the win.
I said earlier that Zarate tended to infuriate rather than exhilarate. In Milan, Cisse did both. His brilliance forced my hand as I gave him the nod for man of the match but his poor decision-making left me contemplating what could have been. The reaction from Cisse's teammates when Djibril would fire high into Row Z or choose the wrong option completely in attack tells me that I was not the only one who was disappointed at times. It was more worrying however to see the 'Black Lion' vehemently defending his actions to those around him following every incorrect decision. Once again, I was reminded of Mauro Zarate.
I do understand that brilliance can be frustrating, but Cisse must continue to infuriate and exhilarate in equal measure. Edy Reja has nicknamed him 'The Beast' and our ringmaster will have to decide whether to tame him and risk losing the very characteristics that makes him brilliant or to let him run wild in the hope that he frustrates the opposition more than his own colleagues in Rome.