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The Phenomenal Lazio Season Nobody is Talking About and Why we Must Take Note

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Lazio's incredible rise under Simeone Inzaghi

It’s been 20 years since Lazio last won the Serie A title, so you can understand why they aren’t ready to surrender their challenge this year just yet. The team from Rome are currently situated in their best position yet since their last Scudetto back in 2000, to challenge and win what would be only their third-ever title in Italy’s top tier.

Whilst the Serie A isn't quite the diverse and tense battle it was in the 90s and 2000s, just like the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, the Serie A still hosts some of the biggest clubs in the world. Despite winning the title in 2000, Lazio wasn't usually a part of the title races back, with Roma, Juventus and the Milan sides the usual contestants, whilst Napoli have made a rise in recent years.

However, the Eagles are well clear from the likes of Roma, AC Milan and Napoli in the league table. Indeed, Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan put up a strong shout to be a title contender earlier in the season, but even they have fallen and found themselves eight points below Lazio in third.

The Biancocelesti are now just one point behind Italy's serial winners Juventus after a run of seven games unbeaten in the league that saw them beat Inter 2-1 in a gargantuan Serie A clash.

Here’s why Simone Inzaghi’s men have had a terrific campaign and why they can't be ruled out to be the first team to dethrone Juventus in almost nine years and how they could be contenders in Europe over time.

The Supercoppa Italia Triumph

Whilst being in the hunt for the Scudetto, Lazio have already claimed silverware so far this season. The annual Supercoppa Italia tournament sees the current holders of the Serie A and the Coppa Italia lock horns – similar to the English FA Community Shield.

The trophy, now named the Coca Cola Super Cup following a rebranding, differentiates in time and location; frequently alternating between being an annual summer curtain-raiser or a mid-season winter affair. The competition also doesn’t have a set venue, such as Wembley for the Community Shield, and has been held in a number of different stadiums across the years, from the home ground of the winners of the Serie A Scudetto to the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Qatar.

King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was the hosting venue in this year’s edition, with Lazio meeting Juventus there in a late December clash. It’s no surprise that the Turin outfit were favourites heading into the game; the team has won the league title for the past seven consecutive years and featured such superstars as Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Matthijs De Ligt.

However, the Old Lady wouldn’t get their way this time, with Lazio being victorious and surprisingly, comfortably condemning Juventus to a 3-1 defeat as they lifted the trophy. Goals from Luis Alberto, Senad Lulic and a superb late free kick form Danilo Cataldi sealed the win for Inzaghi’s men, with Paulo Dybala’s late first half strike serving only as a consolation.

Many may argue that the Super Cup holds the least importance for Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus when looking at the other competitions they’re challenging for, however, the ethos in Turin is certainly more of a ‘winning is everything’ stance than a ‘you can’t win them all’ one, which has been shown through their ruthless domination in Italy over the last decade.

Sarri pulled out all the stops to secure the Supercoppa in Saudi Arabi, highlighted by his team selection; Ronaldo, Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain formed the front three up top with Mattia De Sciglio starting at right-back to offer more defensive cover than the electric Juan Cuadrado, who had been deployed there recently and was performing well prior to the final.

The result and the manner of the performance is certainly something Lazio can look back on fondly, using their Super Cup success as a springboard to launch a title challenge. This could also offer an encouraging sign, looking at possible cracks beginning to show in the Juventus wall that has had a hold over Italian football for close to a decade.

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Inzaghi’s tactics scoring valuable wins

As highlighted in the Supercoppa win, Lazio can certainly hang with the big boys in Serie A. Interestingly, Inzaghi was the club’s top goalscorer in all competitions when the Eagles last lifted a Scudetto back in the 1999-2000 season, and he, if any, is the man to take them back to the top.

The Italian tactician, younger brother of AC Milan legend Filippo Inzaghi, sets Lazio up with a three at the back system, similar to Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United, who utilise the overlapping capabilities of the centre backs to create attacks. Stefan Radu and Luiz Felipe start either side of Francesco Acerbi, with Acerbi the deeper of the three who augments the back three to be the physical enforcer.

The use of wing-backs that help out defensively as well as aid every attack when possible, and a defensive midfielder that protects the back three whilst creating moves from deep have seen the Eagles concede the least amount of goals in the Serie A this season, as well as have the fewest amount of league defeats.

Inzaghi’s Lazio have shown this season that they aren’t just a counter-attacking team that defend and hit teams on the break. They like to play out from the back and use incisive and creative passing to play through the opposition press, whilst also using a high press themselves as they look to get on the front foot and pounce on opposition mistakes.

The midfield role of Luis Alberto is integral in Lazio’s system, with him usually coming deep to make use of his exceptional passing skills to dictate the play and feed the strikers. Alberto has the most amount assists in Serie A this season. His midfield partner Sergej Milinkovic-Savic occupies as a box-to-box midfielder that helps defensively as well as getting forward and being involved in most attacks.

The Serbian also uses his big 6f 3 frame as a target man when getting forward, to knock down or hold the ball up for the attackers. Inzaghi’s tactics have seen the Eagles pick up huge results in the league this season, as well as the Supercoppa victory. A recent 2-1 win against Inter saw them emerge as the leading challengers for Juventus’ title, after Lazio themselves beat Juventus 3-1 in the league, before repeating the feat in the cup final.

They truly are an emerging force in Italy and perhaps in Europe as well now under Inzaghi.

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The Immense Immobile

In these times when a team is in phenomenal form, there is always one go-to man who takes the plaudits each time. This time, it's Ciro Immobile. The Italian has been, when on top form, one of Europe's very best, bagging 15 Serie A goals last season, 29 the year before that and 23 one year prior to then.

It was in Turin in which the 30-year-old made a name for himself as one of the elites, smashing home 22 league goals for Torino in 2013/14. A mega move to Borussia Dortmund resulted from such spectacular form, but this was a failure, and so was his time at Sevilla.

But this season is where he has officially cemented himself as one of the world's best strikers and he proved his two years away from Italy from 2014-2016 was merely a blip in his incredible ability.

Immobile has fired in an astonishing 27 goals from 26 league appearances, that’s six more than Juventus' megastar and five-time Balon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and ten more than Inter's prolific Romelu Lukaku.

It’s no wonder that many of the biggest clubs around the world have come sniffing and are rumoured to be after the Italian hitman once again. Immobile isn’t blessed with pace but uses his body to get free of defenders in the area. The former Juventus man is also effective down the channels when on the counter-attack and often pulls wide to allow Milinkovic-Savic and Alberto space in the middle.

His link-up play with his teammates has seen him record six assists in the league this season, putting him seventh in the league rankings. Lazio look almost certain to end their 13-year wait for Champions League football, but can they go even further and end Juventus’ stranglehold on the Italian league by clinching their first Scudetto in 20 years.

By Jordan Edmonds