Contrasting styles clash at the Stadio Olimpico this coming weekend as third-place Lazio welcome reigning champions Juventus in what promises to be an intense encounter. Simone Inzaghi’s on form Biancocelesti will be relishing the chance to take on Maurizio Sarri’s under-performing Bianconeri.
Lazio have notoriously struggled against the peninsula’s top teams in years gone-by and will need to overcome their vulnerability against those around them if they wish to claim that elusive spot in the top four. The capital outfit will see this Saturday’s clash against a misfiring Juventus as an ideal opportunity to do just that. However, Mister Inzaghi will have less than fond memories of his most recent encounters with Juve boss Sarri.
When these two Italian tacticians have clashed in the recent past, Sarri has inflicted damaging defeats on his fellow countryman. Then in charge of Napoli, Sarri’s fluid and incisive 4-3-3 proved too hot to handle for Lazio, but Inzaghi will be well aware of the fact that he isn’t facing a Juventus version of that devastating Partenopei side.
Whilst The Old Lady remain the only unbeaten team in Europe, their performances have been far from inspirational and steadily declining over the last few weeks. On the flip side, Lazio are on a hot streak. Winning six consecutive Serie A games and unbeaten in nine, the Aquile boast the most prolific scoring pair across the continent’s top five leagues. With 23 goals between them, Joaquin Correa (6) and serial marksman Ciro Immobile (17) will be confident of breaching the league’s best defence.
Beyond the battle at the business end of the pitch, there will be an interesting variation in tactical approach from both sides. Unable to deploy his preferred 4-3-3 formation due to injuries and the personnel in his squad. Sarri has been somewhat forced to find a different solution, using a 4-3-1-2 with varying levels of success.
The former Chelsea coach may have adapted his formation, but his possession-based approach remains the same and Inzaghi will now see this as an opportunity to gain an advantage rather than shudder at the thought of being on the receiving end of ‘Sarriball’ again.
Lazio chief Inzaghi’s use of the 3-5-2 has the potential to ask serious questions of their illustrious visitors. Stretching the pitch with the use of his wing-backs and quick diagonal switches are features of his team’s play. This tactic against a narrow Bianconeri midfield will be a key aspect of the game, allowing Lazio to dominate the wings and potentially create threatening overloads against Juve’s full-backs.
The home team will also seek to exploit Sarri’s team with sharp counters. Containing quick ball carriers and powerful runners will allow Lazio to use another of their strengths, counter attacks. Inzaghi will want to provide his team a platform to spring these attacks from after winning possession. Blocking central areas to prevent Juventus using their midfield overload and forcing play wide, where Lazio will feel they have defensive superiority.
However, Juve have done well preventing opposition teams in transition by pressing any ball turnovers rapidly. The biggest challenge for Sarri will be finding spaces beyond Lazio’s compact midfield and manufacturing numerical superiority against Lazio’s wing-backs/wide centre-backs as he loves to do. Causing this defensive disconnect has been a staple of Sarri’s football, demanding control of possession and patient build-ups in order to make this happen.
Extreme discipline is required, speed of play could prove the difference. The margins are fine.
The differing formations and approach will certainly make this a fascinating contest from a tactical perspective. It would be easy for either coach to change, as a 3-5-2 vs 4-3-1-2 carries equal amounts of risk and reward for both benches. But with Just six points separating these two teams in the table and three points vital for them, neither will want to offer the other an advantage by moving away from what has served their teams well so far.