Lazio had a season of highs and lows last year, finishing eighth, ten points behind the fourth Champions League spot which they had also missed out on in 2017/18 after losing in dramatic fashion against Inter on the final day of the season. The high was undoubtedly winning the Coppa Italia. As ever, Lazio have worked quietly in the transfer market but sporting director Igli Tare has made some intriguing additions to their squad. This tactical analysis will differ slightly from my previous recruitment analysis pieces this summer in that I will not look at potential signings, rather I will look at how the signings made will fit into Simone Inzaghi’s tactics.
Firstly, it is important to be clear on which signings this piece will look closer at. Lazio have signed four players for the first team; Manuel Lazzari, Denis Vavro, Jony Rodríguez and Bobby Adekanye. The youngsters Sofian Kiyine, Angelo Ndrecka and Gustavo Cipriano have also joined, but will likely struggle to make the team. Due to Adekanye not having played any first-team football as of this summer, and being unlikely to feature much in Serie A this season (at least initially), I have decided to focus on the other three who have been signed to perform immediately.
Tactical analysis: Lazio’s tactics
As this analysis shows, Lazio have been a very flexible team under Inzaghi. In attack, they are capable of playing on the counter-attack as well as patiently building from the back. Defensively, they can press high using man-orientations as well as defending deeper with a positionally-focused defensive style. The formation has always been a 3-5-1-1 or a 3-5-2, where Lazio have been very strong in central areas and looked to release their wing-backs down the flanks. Their greatest strength under Inzaghi has been their counter-attacking, which is swift and sharp with Lazio often cutting right through teams on the break.
The midfield diamond, as it is when playing 3-5-1-1, is the strongest area of the side with Inzaghi able to use the likes of Lucas Leiva, Marco Parolo, Sergej Milinković-Savić, Luis Alberto and Joaquín Correa in the various different roles. They have allowed the underwhelming Milan Badelj to leave, but they are hoping that Valon Berisha can contribute more than he did in a difficult first season in Rome.
Up front, Lazio seem happy with Ciro Immobile being the main man with him, partnered by either an attacking midfielder such as Alberto or Correa, or a target man such as Felipe Caicedo. Either way, this is an area of the pitch Tare has decided against strengthening at this point.
Instead, the problem areas Tare has identified as in need of strengthening are centre-back and both wing-back roles. This is where my focus will lie, looking at how Tare’s new signings can help improve Inzaghi’s team and tactics.
Manuel Lazzari is an Italian full-back/winger who has excelled as the wing-back in SPAL’s 3-5-2. The 25-year-old has been phenomenal for the Ferrara-based club and particularly excels going forward. At Lazio, Lazzari will compete with Adam Marušić for the right wing-back role. The Montenegrin international impressed in his first season, with three goals and five assists, but had less of an impact in attack last year with only one goal and one assist. It is crucial for Lazio to have wing-backs that threaten in the final third. Given their strong central core, teams can choose to defend very narrow and prevent Lazio’s central combination play if there are no threats from the wide areas. Lazzari will help solve this issue.
If we look at how the two wing-backs compare statistically, it seems obvious that Lazzari is an upgrade on Marušić going forward. For starters, the Italian contributed eight assists for SPAL last season. Lazzari also averaged 8.28 dribbles and 4.62 progressive runs, compared with Marušić’s 3.61 dribbles and 2.04 progressive runs. These stats highlight Lazzari’s superior ability to progress the ball individually, which can be key if there is a lot of space to run into. Lazzari also averaged more crosses, 7.68, than Marušić’s 2.41, although the Montenegrin had a marginally superior completion rate, 38.3% to 37.5%. Finally, Lazzari averaged 5.37 passes to the penalty area compared to Marušić’s 2.29. This can also be crucial for Lazio, as more passes to the box will see the likes of Immobile, Correa, Alberto and Milinković-Savić get more opportunities to create chances and shots.
It is clear that Lazzari will likely be an upgrade on Marušić going forward, however, Marušić performed better than Lazzari defensively. His 3.41 interceptions were better Lazzari’s 3.12 and he won 58.4% of his 5.97 defensive duels compared to Lazzari winning 51.5% of his 4.95 defensive duels. Marušić’s greater defensive ability might provide him with the upper hand in big games, yet Lazzari’s attacking threat will be key in most matches as Lazio will be expected to dominate games.
It seems as though Lazzari is another astute signing by Tare, as the Italian international will provide the attacking impetus Lazio need down their right flank.
On the opposite flank, Jony is an interesting addition to Lazio’s squad. He joins from Málaga, although he spent last season on loan at Deportivo Alavés. He enjoyed a fantastic season in La Liga, scoring five goals and providing ten assists. At Lazio, he will be played as the left wing-back, mainly competing with club captain Senad Lulić, Riza Durmisi and Jordan Lukaku. Given Lulić has clearly been the first-choice in this position, Jony will mainly be competing with the Bosnian club legend for the starting berth.
Jony played primarily on the left of Alavés’s four-man midfield last year so he will have to adjust to the demands of defending a lot deeper on the wing than he is used to. However, he seems well-equipped to do so. He won 50% of his 4.25 defensive duels last season, which is well below Lulić’s 58.2% from 7.3 defensive duels and he also made fewer interceptions, 2.36 compared to Lulić’s 5. However, his stats are still good for a winger, so if he can cope with the positional change he will improve in this regard and he is an upgrade on the Bosnian going forward.
Jony averaged 5.52 crosses last term, better than Lulić’s 4.77 but with a lesser completion rate, 37% compared to the Bosnian’s 47.6%. He also averaged more dribbles, 7.04 to Lulić’s 5.21, more progressive runs, 2.44 to 2.36 and more passes to the box, 4.83 to 4.57. Their stats are quite similar, but what might give Jony the edge is the fact he has a very good left foot, which opens up the potential to whip in early crosses. Immobile loves to attack these, and it would not be surprising to see the Italian striker score three or four goals from early Jony crosses from the left.
Jony will have a battle on his hands to wrestle the starting spot from Lulić, but playing in a more attacking team than he is used to should see his attacking contributions be even higher and then the added danger of his left foot will probably see him oust Lulić in games Lazio are expected to dominate, at the very least.
Tare has a very good track record in terms of signing defenders. His Dutch double signing of Stefan De Vrij and Wesley Hoedt proved successful, Francesco Acerbi had an impressive first season as the central centre-back of Inzaghi’s back-three and the trio of Bastos, Wallace and Luiz Felipe have shown glimpses of their potential. However, the issue has been that while Stefan Radu and Acerbi (and De Vrij before him) have been solid, there have been issues with all three of Bastos, Wallace and Luiz Felipe in terms of their concentration which has cost Lazio in big games, notably in two Roman derbies in the last two seasons. Therefore, Tare has searched for a centre-back to complete the back-three and provide the sort of stability any team wants from their defence.
The chosen defender is Denis Vavro, a Slovakian 23-year-old who joins from FC Copenhagen. Vavro has started as the right-sided centre-back in pre-season and it seems likely he could start the season alongside Acerbi and Radu in defence. Vavro has a very interesting profile as a defender due to his quality in possession. Defensively, he averaged 5.83 interceptions last season, highlighting his ability to read the game, and he won 58.9% of his aerial duels as well as 61% of his 3.25 defensive duels. These suggest a solid defender who is commanding in the air.
However, it is probably Vavro’s passing that has caught the attention of Tare. Since Lazio thrive in attacking transition and in progressing the ball quickly, often with passes over the defence to runs made by Immobile, Vavro will fit exceptionally well. His long passing is good, with him averaging 6.76 long passes per game at a completion rate of 59.4%. One pass he often looks to make is the sweeping ball from the back over the entire opposition team into the run of a striker. Immobile makes these runs better than anyone, suggesting a possible attacking pattern for Lazio. Vavro also averaged 0.51 through passes last season, a good asset for a defender when stepping out with the ball, 23.86 forward passes in total and 8.36 passes to the final third. Clearly, Vavro seems like a defender suitable for Inzaghi’s style of quick ball progression.
Vavro has already spoken of wanting to emulate compatriot Milan Škriniar and if he can do that then he will have proven another success story of Igli Tare’s reign.
Lazio will again hope to challenge for a top-four spot, and once again Simone Inzaghi will have to do it without the financial backing his rivals for those spots are granted.
Fortunately, Igli Tare is a sublime sporting director who is great at spotting talent and signing suitable players cheaply. After the recent success of the likes of Immobile, Alberto, Leiva and Milinković-Savić, Lazio will hope Lazzari, Jony and Vavro will prove equally astute additions to Inzaghi’s squad. As this recruitment analysis has shown, all three seem clever signings and perfectly suited to Inzaghi’s tactics.