Lazio, Simone Inzaghi and Ciro Immobile. The three words which have now become quite famous among the football faithful come from the Capital of Italy, known for the legacy of AS Roma. Sharing their rivalry with Roma known as the Rome derby or the Derby della Capitale, I Biancocelesti have often been under the shadows of their rivals. In fact, with a history of more than a century, the club has won the top flight of Italian football only twice.
The club’s most successful period was in between the late 1990s and early 2000s when they won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Super Cup and Serie A, each once. Since then they have struggled to contend for the title in the eras that have been dominated by the Milan clubs and Juventus. They have been in touching distance of elites of the league here and there but since the beginning of this decade they have reached the top four only twice in seven seasons having finished 4th in and 3rd to show for their best placed finishes.
Last season, Lazio once again knocked the door of Top 4 under the regime of Simone Inzaghi. It proved to be quite an impressive performance overall as it was Inzaghi’s first season as a manager in charge and he took his team to fifth place finish. He impressed everyone as it was touted that he had finally come out of the shadows of his brother, Filippo.
Simone Inzaghi and his story
Born in Piacenza, a small city in Northern Italy, Inzaghi started his career in football as a player for his hometown club Piacenza Calcio. He served for four different clubs in four loan spells and finally came back to hometown club where he scored 15 goals in 30 games. This made the Serie A side Lazio to sign him and in his first season he did impress a lot of people. He scored 19 goals from 39 appearances as the Club won its first modern Serie A title and the Italian cup in the year 2000.
However he was associated with Lazio for more than ten years in which he spent two years of the that time away from the Roman Club before returning back again. After his retirement as a player in 2010, he joined Lazio’s youth teams to start his career as a coach. After 6 years of time spent, he was named as the caretaker coach of the Lazio senior team when Stefano Pioli was sacked in 2016. For the next season, Marcelo Bielsa was appointed as the head coach however he left in just a week and then Inzaghi was signed as the permanent manager for the season 2016-17.
Inzaghi steadied the ship in his first full season leading Lazio to a fifth place finish after the club had finished eighth in the previous season. That season saw Lazio finish just 2 points behind 4th placed Atalanta who had a brilliant season with their young players shining. He was praised hugely for his methods of approaching the game and tactical ideas. From being very disciplined and maintaining compactness in the midfield to countering through the wings, Inzaghi got many things spot on last season and the win in the Rome derby was just the icing on the cake after all he achieved with such a thin squad.
This season though, with both Juventus and Napoli dominating the top, Lazio have continued in the way in which they ended last season and one has to praise Simone since they have even improved from the previous season as we can understand from their performances in the first third of the 2017/18 campaign.
Simone Inzaghi tactics
Simone Inzaghi received great plaudits for his tactical prowess he showed last season and this season it has been a level above. His in-game tactical changes are amazing to watch as he makes his team to adapt the changes well and also the way they tactically own their opponents is also amazing on the other hand.
Structures and set ups:
In the 2016/17 season, Inzaghi used three basic structures in games. Lazio were seen often employed in the 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and the 3-5-2. Anyone of these used to be the starting formations last season as Inzaghi started to use one player off the striker in 3-5-1-1 during the final stages of the season. He proved that he is an astute learner and changed the approach perfectly as his side won the Rome derby excellently.
The Italian so far in this season has basically dwindled with the variants of the 3-5-2. The 3-5-1-1 has been the predominant structure of the Lazio team under Inzaghi where often an attacking midfielder plays off the striker. Inzaghi uses three centre backs in this system as a lone pivot is used in the centre. Last season it was Biglia who played in this role adept and this year Lucas Leiva has looked a brilliant replacement.
While the wing backs act as the wide midfielders in this system, Lazio are very dangerous in the wings going forward. Often Luis Alberto is seen to play behind the striker Immobile however in transitions Milinkovic-Savic, who has been phenomenal this season, plays further up than anyone else due to his excellence in transitions and ball carrying capabilities.
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Inzaghi has also favoured playing two attacking players behind the lead striker. This is seen when the team needs more numbers in midfield. Often SMS and Alberto play behind Immobile. They occupy the half spaces allowing the wide full backs to overlap. One of the main aims of Inzaghi is to stay tight in midfield and create overloads in the centre. This is the main reason why he plays a no.10 before a 3-5 block as in the centre the 3-1 structure will dominate opponents playing three men in midfield.
Also in this structure below, Inzaghi doesn’t ask his wide players to create central overloads, rather the two attacking players would join the two central midfielders. This 2-2 midfield structure will once again have an advantage in the centre by outnumbering the opposition.
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This has been successful mainly because of the back three who is at the heart of the defense. Radu, de Vrij and Wallace have been very successful for Inzaghi as they have just let in 16 goals from 14 games so far. Only the teams above them have topped the list as Napoli, Inter and Roma have let in 10 goals and Juventus have conceded 14 goals.
5-3-2 mid block:
Having employed the 3-5-1-1 as his customary formation, Simone Inaghi uses the midfield block as his main weapon defensively. Both the wing backs would fall back in this set up as the central space would be filled by the three midfielders. Biglia played as the lone pivot last season and he was pinned to be the defensive midfielder in the mid block. This season Lucas Leiva has adeptly performed in the same role as the other two midfielders would stay close in the central midfield.
This 5-3 set up helps them defend as a unit. Also the mid-block means that Lazio can see off major threat far away from their own goal. And even if they win the ball back through their pressing then they can aim to counter or break sooner as they can double up their numbers compared to the opposition.
In the 5-3-2, both the forwards will be narrow and close to each other as they press the central progressions of opponents. This forces the opponents to play wide and now the ball near wide central midfielder would press the ball carrier who is slightly wider. Now if the ball is played to the free man in the wings, then he would be marked by the wing back. Also the striker would cover for the central midfielder who moved out of position to carry out the press.
This forces their opposition to push back again and start their attacks out from the back. Also diagonal axis in the centre between the central pivot and the striker will provide additional support defensively as they marked the space in which the opposite numbers aimed to run into.
Widely stationed wing backs:
In Simone Inzaghi’s regime as a coach in Lazio, the wide players have often been stationed very wide by the manager. Going forward, this idea is similar to that of the strategy used by Pep Guardiola. The wingbacks here are widely stationed while he makes more use of the two number 8s in either side of the lone pivot. The main aim of doing this is to make the area bigger when Lazio pushed forward to attack.
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As it can be seen from the above graphics, Laizo position their wing backs very wide even if they start in a 3-4-2-1 or 3-5-1-1. The presence of four midfielders in the axis does not mean that the wide men would have to cut inside, instead they stay very wide to provide the width as the centre was dominated mostly by the two 8s – Parolo and Milinkovic-Savic.
Left sided overload
Lazio often looked to overload their left wing going forward. In the below image, we can see the left center half has been joined by the central defender in the left flank. Also the ball near number 8 would move in along with the central pivot. The left wing back would eventually be occupying the space in the left and one of the two strikers would fall back into the wings to create a 6v4 or 6v5 overload.
By overloading the left, the right flank and the centre has much less protection as it can be seen from the below instance.
Nice 1-3 Lazio
Also in the below instance from the game between Juventus and Lazio earlier in the season, we are able to identify Lazio overloading the left forming a 4v3 overload. This happened as a result of a break in Juventus attack and we see how Lazio have occupied Juventus in that part of the area hence the opposite flank is left unmarked. This gives them a huge advantage going forward as they were able to have men often in 1v1 situations and had a positional superiority over their opponents.
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The ability of the ball playing central midfielder is the key here as he finds the ball far winger in space adeptly. This is how Lazio utilised their left sided dynamics in goal scoring opportunities.
Below we can see how the pressing worked in the attacking half. As Juventus’ backline has spread in such a way to aid the build up, we can see Lazio’s forwards occupying them with the striker marking the central defender with the ball. Initially Inzaghi started with two strikers as Lazio were set up in 5-3-2. However as the pressing took place to win the ball back, the 5-2-3 set up was employed to mark the opponents.
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We can witness from the above image how Lazio pressed in the attacking third with the three forwards marking the three defenders in their build up. In the below image we can identify how Pjanic is being pressed from three directions. The situation below here is an ideal 4v4 attack with Lazio gaining positional superiority. We can see the ball far winger is dropping to cut off the passing lane for Pjanic should he collect the ball and release it in the centre. And this happens simultaneously when the others press the ball receiver in this instance, Pjanic.
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Hence by making use of the pressing, Inzaghi makes his team retrieve the ball in dangerous positions and hit them in counters.
With pressing, the mid-block, overloads being the key tactical features in Inzaghi’s Lazio set up, the counter attack also plays a hugely significant role in the side. With the high pressing involved, Lazio have also scored crucial goals by winning the ball back in dangerous areas. Having finished in Europa League places last season, this year Simone Inzaghi has been expected to do well and he has reciprocated well with stunning displays from his side against the likes of Juventus and AC Milan.
Just above the age of 40, Inzaghi has shown much maturity for a manager who has just completed one full season. His in game tactical switches has been impressive and has shown others why he is a great prospect. After being in the shadows of his brother, Simone Inzaghi has entered the spotlight and has proved that he is here to stay. This Italian tactician is one manager to look out for in the future.