Thursday, September 20, 2012
Lazio could make Tottenham pay for failing to stump up enough cash for Hernanes
The brilliance of Biancocelesti playmaker Hernanes had brought the entire Stadio Bentegodi to a standstill, as he nonchalantly sidestepped two midfielders before releasing a dagger of a shot from 30 yards that ricocheted off the post and nestled itself in the net.
Chievo are renowned for their defensive solidity, having conceded only two fewer goals than Lazio last season despite finishing six places below the Rome based club. Hernanes’s scintillating performance last weekend, which included a brace and an assist for striker Miroslav Klose in a 3-1 victory, typified his personal and the team’s campaign to date.
Lazio President Claudio Lotito surprised many in the summer when he appointed Vladimir Petković to replace Eduardo Reja as manager. The Bosnian’s only other management experience in the top flight was in the Swiss Pro League. Expectations remained high after the club had finished a mere two points off a Champions League place in the 2011-12 season.
A disastrous pre-season did not see ‘The Doctor’ get off to the best of starts in the Italian capital. Narrow victories over minor provincial sides and defeats at the hands of Getafe, Siena, Torino and Galatasaray did not bode well. A chronic lack of goals also left supporters furious, and rioting marred the club’s friendly with Salernitana.
It appeared the 49-year-old could be sacked before he took charge of a single competitive fixture, with bizarre techniques such as picturing the players naked for in-depth fitness tests not aiding his cause. In-fighting among several players left the entire club in disarray, with Lotito reportedly ready to replace the coach judging on the result in their first league outing.
A narrow victory over Atlanta and a convincing dispatching of Palermo was followed up by last weekend’s triumph in Verona. In the process Petković has become the second Lazio boss in history to start a season with three consecutive victories. A feat only previously achieved by the legendary Tommaso Maestrelli in 1974-75, back when the Aquile won their first Serie A title.
It’s been an incredible turnaround from the position Petković was in only a month ago, when he was criticising his own players’ attitudes. “We have gone from zeros to heroes,” admitted the former Sion man. The next test awaiting his men is their opening Europa League Group J fixture with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on Thursday evening.
Once again all eyes will be on that man ‘The Prophet’ in midfield, after the London based outfit reportedly put in a deadline day £20m bid that was ultimately rejected.
Hernanes was often underused and played out of position under Reja last term, with the player himself lamenting the Italian’s lacklustre approach. Petković has listened to his cries and instead of forcing him to play as a trequartista he has been successfully pushed into a regista role with a license to roam in the opponents’ final third. The result has been four goals in four matches from the former Sao Paulo man.
Lotito fought tooth and nail to keep him out of the likes of AC Milan and Spurs sights, and an underwhelming personal campaign last year is perhaps the only reason why he is still in the capital. While Porto’s powerhouse Joao Moutinho was Andre Villas-Boas primary target during the summer, the Brazilian’s ability to spread the play while also possessing the capability to beat several players could have made him a more viable option.
Whether Lazio can maintain a serious title challenge alongside Juventus and Napoli in Italy will hinder on if they can keep him past January. In the past several days it has been reported he has been offered a new deal, which will bring him up until 2017 with the club and includes a small £3m pay-rise.
Italian outfits have generally not prioritised the Europa League ahead of their domestic duties in the last several years, but Petković has stressed how vital it is to keep their forward momentum going. While in charge of BSC Young Boys, the towering Bosnian tactician scared a stuttering Spurs throughout a Champions League qualifier. Expect him to instill a similar mindset into his current batch of players and attempt to spring an upset.