Hardly packed to the rafters, only around 15,000 fans filed into Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday evening. The entertainment on offer, Lazio versus Udinese, certainly does not have the reputation of a barnstormer. Almost inevitably, supporters witnessed a routine 2-0 win for the home side; on paper, it all sounds rather bland. The result has assisted Lazio’s pursuit for European contention and pushed Udinese closer to the pit of despair (and Serie B). This does not mean that the game was a walkover, however, and Lazio did not treat it as such.
In this tactical analysis, we shall see how Lazio gave an assured performance in all areas of the pitch and dominated a Udinese side lacking confidence in the attacking third.
Line-ups and formations
Starting this tactical analysis with the home side, there wasn’t much out of the ordinary in terms of Simeone Inzaghi’s chosen shape. Whilst often deviating between a 3-5-2 and a 3-5-1-1 this season, the Lazio legend opted for a two-pronged strike force.
A slight ankle injury to Joaquin Correa, Lazio’s Argentinian playmaker, sustained in their 1-0 loss to AC Milan, may have forced Inzaghi to choose two frontmen. Regardless, Felipe Caicedo returned to the squad to partner Ciro Immobile up front. The duo are Lazio’s highest scorers in Serie A this season, with 19 goals between them.
The Udinese manager, Igor Tudor, also prefers a three-man back line. In this visit to the capital, his second in less than a week following a 1-0 loss to Roma, he made no exception. Udinese lined up with a 3-5-1-1, which meant that a congested midfield would be hard for each side to traverse. The Croatian did, however, spring some surprising inclusions.
The most notable personnel change saw Watford-loanee Ben Wilmot get a second starting taste of the Pozzo family’s Italian operation. Wilmot had plenty of experience around him, however. He was joined by Jens Stryger Larsen and William Troost-Ekong in the backline, who’ve now made 62 Serie A appearances between them this season.
Masters of time and space
Lazio’s forward play remained dynamic throughout the 90 minutes. The front two of Caicedo and Immobile led an attack which constantly adapted to suit the conditions of the moment.
In the first half, Lazio started the game on the front foot, and the duo’s movement and throughput reflected this. Highlighting their early bravado, Immobile made four key passes in the game, two of which came within the first 20 minutes. Likewise, we can take Caicedo’s opening goal as an example of how the two sensed the vulnerabilities in the Udinese back line.
Immobile, the Italian international, had been constantly looking to penetrate by playing behind the defensive line. After Lazio regained possession midway on the left flank, he found acres of space behind the defender for Senad Lulić to roll a pass into.
Whilst Immobile drove at William Troost-Ekong, Caicedo darted between the defensive pairing, outpacing his marker. The finish was sublime, crashing into the bottom right-hand corner from the near post.
Furthermore, this dynamic level of running ran squad-deep in the early stages of the game. The forward pairing was fantastic at doing so, but they were also joined by the marauding midfielder Marco Parolo. The veteran Italian midfielder bellied his 34-years to consistently swarm forwards in the first half. The below demonstrates a typical Parolo channel run.
Lazio looked to consolidate after half time, and further attacking attempts appeared blunted. However, they remained a dangerous threat, particularly in the latter stages of the game. Our tactical analysis shows us that they advanced differently, with a patient build-up often suddenly breaking out into an attacking fever.
Below, we have one such example. Bruno Jordão, receiving the ball deep, suddenly burst forward into space with clever give-and-go’s with his teammates. In this instance, Udinese’s backline held firm, however.
Whilst Lazio’s defence were fantastic, our tactical analysis shows that, collectively, the whole team defended superbly. They rode out heavy periods of Udinese possession masterfully with their disciplined mid-to-low block. Their midfield three were also spectacular at squeezing out and closing off passing options. Lucas Leiva and Sergej Milinković-Savić racked up six interceptions between them, nearly half of Lazio’s total.
Below we can see how Lazio’s drilled defensive structure blockaded the visitors. The Udinese attack had gradually switched flanks, with Marvin Zeegelaar moving inside with the ball. Throughout, Udinese tried to pin back the Lazio wing-backs, so consequently, the home side often defended with a 5-3-2. However, Lazio were defiant.
With Zeegelaar facing square-on to Rômulo, Milan Badelj instinctively positions himself in front of Rolando Mandragora. Leiva also screens, picking up Lasagna’s position and remains in place. The Lazio backline are expertly stood goal side of their men, shackling them. Another promising attack was snuffed out.
With a ‘goals against’ record better than fifth-placed Roma and sixth-placed Atalanta, we shouldn’t be surprised that I Biancocelesti defended magnificently. Yet, this was not a thoroughly perfect display. In this vein, it would be unfair not to discuss the circumstances of Udinese’s penalty in the second half.
Having effectively won the ball from Lazio’s courageous counter-attack, Tudor’s side had Lazio where they wanted them: whilst not necessarily outnumbered, they were backpedalling. Rodrigo De Paul’s excellent cross-field ball saw the focused run of Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu.
Agyemang-Badu did brilliantly to challenge Francesco Acerbi for the header, and whilst he didn’t beat him, he played a part. Acerbi’s header was sideways, and the retreating Lulić was caught wrong-footed and unsure whose run he should follow. Kevin Lasagna was in full-flow heading towards the ball when the wing-back clattered into him. It was a definite penalty.
The away side did not help themselves in their efforts to score, however. If we look at the statistics from whoscored.com, we can see that De Paul and Lasagna were limited in the opposition box. Lasagna only had five of his 26 touches in the box, with only one being a shot. De Paul, Le Zebrette’s star player, only had one of his 63 in the area: his awful penalty. Lazio did defend well, but obviously, Udinese did not challenge them enough.
In all fairness to the visitors, they were extremely unlucky to not to have taken the lead. Agyemang-Badu’s excellent header, which slammed against the bar, could easily have put them in front. Whilst not necessarily their plan to angle a cross from so deep, Udinese’s poor short corner was shepherded away from the area. The cross was whipped in and Agyemang-Badu, unmarked, flicked it against the upright.
A tactical analysis shows us that Badu’s header from a deep cross was not an exception to their attack, however. Of their 17 crosses, 10 were further than 18-yards away from the byline. Ultimately, Udinese needed to get closer to their opponent’s goal, yet, they often froze up the closer to the area they were.
A symbolic example of this came at a time when Udinese were dominating their opponents. The move started with an excellent run from the back from De Paul. The crafty attacker’s line-breaking run was effective and tore open Lazio’s well-marshalled midfield. His lay-off to Łukasz Teodorczyk was nice and the Pole did well to spin on the ball, finding Lasagna. Unfortunately for Teodorczyk, Lasagna’s return pass was dreadful. It cannoned out for a goal kick.
The outcome of this game should have been routine, and it largely was. This tactical analysis hoped to show how Lazio were simply a cut above their opponents. In attack, the home side wielded enormous flexibility and read the game well. Defensively they were disciplined and hard to break down. They were not immune to being caught off-guard, however, and could well have been punished from the penalty spot.
On the other hand, Udinese reflected a team who are dangling precariously over the relegation spots of Serie A. They had their chances to get something from the game, but they rarely penetrated Lazio’s defence. The away side remained a threat throughout but they were simply not classy enough in the final third. Tudor will be hoping that his side can learn from this defeat.
The result of this match has only pushed each side closer to the extremities of the table. With only six games to go until the end of the season, this result may prove significant.
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