Date: September 15, 2011
Time: 19.00 CET
Place: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
Referee: Eric F.J. Braamhaar (The Netherlands)
Last time Lazio featured in the Europa League things did not work out well, and under the management of Ballardini Lazio were eliminated in the group stage after facing Levski Sofia, Red Bull Salzburg and Villarreal . This time around, the team and everyone involved in the management have higher hopes and the goal is to stand as champions comes the end of the season and Coach Edoardo Reja has openly set the goals at reaching the final in Bucharest, Romania.
After having eliminated Rabotnicki of Macedonia with a 9-1 win on aggregate, it is now time for FC Vaslui and the first game of the group stage. The Romanians are a force to be reckoned with from a league that has improved lately with teams featuring in the Champions League as well as Europa League. The club is a young one, having been formed as late as 2002, and lack international experience despite having been close to qualifying for the Europa League earlier. Two seasons ago they were eliminated by AEK Athens in the last qualifying round, last year they failed to overcome Lille, but this year they reached the group stage of Europa League after having secured a 2-0 win against Sparta Prague at home; a result that was enough to send the Romanian third place finisher to the group stage (2-1 on aggregate), despite missing as many as nine players from their main squad for the Prague encounter.
An interesting fact is that they in January this year were served a transfer ban from FIFA; a ban that held them back from investing in any new players during the just finished transfer window as well as earlier in the year. Despite this, they managed to duplicate the third place finish from the previous season and have been under steady development under Coach Viorel Hizo, who is having his third spell with the Vaslui outfit. During the previous two-three seasons the club have managed to attract plenty of talented players, both from the international and domestic stage, and the team has cemented their position amongst the top teams in the Romanian league. With the transfer ban it can be assumed that the team has had plenty of time to get together and become a well organised team.
Currently in sixth position, the Romanians seem to have found their form just in the right time. The weekend fixture saw the team convincingly overcome the league leaders, Dinamo Bucharest, with a 3-1 win. The trio of Brazilians Wesley Lopes and Adailton, whom many might recognise as he has featured for Verona, Genoa and Bologna in the Italian football, and Zimbabwean Mike Temwanjera, are more than capable of causing upsets against any opposition and the key to a victory against the side is to stop their attack. In defence they look pretty solid too, but the experience in this side is found in the attacking department and with some pressure on their defence, where they have conceded seven goals in six league games, they might turn out vulnerable enough for the Lazio attackers to take advantage on. With a traditional 4-3-3 formation the midfield creativity comes from Lucian Sanmartean, and the focus is on keeping the ball within the team and the game high up the field by putting early pressure on the opponents. Worth noting is that the Romanians have one player familiar with playing against Lazio, as Bulgarian defender Zhivko Milanov represented Levski Sofia the last time the Rome based outfit played in Europa League.
For the Italians things also look positive after a promising start to the season with a draw away to the champions AC Milan. In the first 20 minutes of the game Lazio looked more impressive than ever with an attacking effort that caught the Milan defence off guard. On the other end of the pitch however, Lazio displayed a poor defensive game and the absence of Radu on the left, and the departure of Lichsteiner on the right, was felt quite dramatically with two goals from the Milan attackers in only four minutes and due to mistakes by mainly Zauri on the left, but also the rest of the defensive line who were not ready to cover for each other. In other words, the game against Vaslui should be aimed at winning by attacking and keeping a high pressure rather than sitting back and hoping for breaks and counter attacks. This is far from the traditional Edy Reja tactics, but with the current players available for selection, it is hard to see any better tactical disposition in a game where most expect Lazio to comfortably grab all three points.
Lazio will be missing Stefan Radu and Lorik Cana due to injury, and Abdoullay Konko seems to be needing a rest after having played his first competitive game after his summer long injury, while Giuseppe Sculli is expected to be back from his minor setback that kept him away from the Milan game. Miroslav Klose, who opened the goal scoring against Milan, will be expected to start off the bench as the German international has already played quite a few games this season. Other than that, the recent training sessions have left many wondering what formation Lazio will chose on Thursday. The traditional 4-2-3-1 (4-2-fantasia) was employed against Milan, but with Reja stating he will aim at testing four to five new players in this game many believe Lazio will test a more traditional 4-4-2. To have the option to change the game plan and formation is to be seen as a strength in the team this season, but it remains to be seen how this will deployed over the season.
The schedule of games is very hectic the coming days, with Vaslui on Thursday, Genoa on Sunday, Cesena on Wednesday and Palermo next Sunday, and the importance of having a squad prepared to play games frequently is shown straight away. The debate of resting, or not resting, is a hot topic and soon we will all see how the mister chooses to field his players.
Lastly, some special attention needs to be given to Lazio skipper Tommaso Rocchi this evening. The veteran got his 98th and 99th goals in the Lazio shirt against Rabotnicki, and with a goal tonight he will be joining the exclusive league of Bruno Giordano, Giorgio Chinaglia, Giuseppe Signori and Stefano Pioli as one of the players who has passed the milestone of having scored 100 goals for Lazio.
Lazio: Marchetti, Zauri, Diakite, Dias, Lulic, Ledesma, Matuzalem, Gonzalez, Mauri, Cisse, Rocchi.
FC Vaslui: Cerniauskas, Milisavljevici, Constantin, Farkas, Milanov, Gerlem, Pavlovic, Sanmartean, Wesley, Temwanjera, Adailton.