A contrasting form of Lazio’s Europa League campaign to the Serie A season may see them bow out of the competition in the group stage. Lazio vs Celtic return leg triggered a feeling of déjà vu. It was a replica of the first leg both teams played out. Lazio takes the lead in the first half and Celtic comes back to score the winner in the dying minutes of the game.
This tactical analysis analyses the nuances of the game as well as the tactics used by both the managers, Fillipo Inzaghi and Neil Lennon.
Inzaghi started with his usual 3-5-2 formation and made just two changes from their previous Europa League fixture against Celtic. He brought in Ciro Immobile for the injured Joaquín Correa. Lazio needed Immobile’s services to have little hope of qualifying for the next stage of Europa League. Luiz Felipe replaced Bastos in the line-up owing to Felipe’s ability to produce long balls for the players running the channels. Others were the usual suspects manning their usual positions from the last Europa League fixture against Celtic.
Lennon countered with 5-3-2 which he scarcely uses. He started the last fixture against Lazio with a 4-2-3-1 formation and later moved on to five-man defence dropping Forrest from wing to the wing-back position owing to a tactical change. Analysing the flaws of last game, he started with a five-man defence from the very beginning. Jonny Hayes started as a left wing-back and James Forrest manned the right wing-back position from the very start.
Kristoffer Ajer, Christopher Jullien and Hatem Abd Elhamed were at the heart of the defence. Mohamed Elyounoussi partnered Odsonne Édouard up top. Ryan Christie dropped back from his usual position to form a three-man midfield with Scott Brown and Callum McGregor.
Lennon started with a 5-3-2 from the very beginning with the hope of keeping Lazio wing-backs at bay. The difference between Lazio and Celtic’s full-backs were they positioned themselves differently. Lazio’s wing-backs were more adventurous and acted more of a winger while Celtic’s wing-backs were defensive and acted more as full-backs.
Lazio and Celtic both sat deep and adopted the ‘pendulum press’ approach to press their opponent in the hope of preventing forward passes to the ball carrier and providing defensive block in the midfield.
Pendulum pressing means the forwards won’t go for aggressive pressing rather they would be blocking the passing channel to the opponent’s ball carrier. One player would be behind the ball carrier to mark him closely and another would be moving towards the opponent’s centre-back who has the ball in his feet. The player moving away from the ball carrier should maintain a position and body orientation where he blocks the passing channel to the carrier.
Here, Édouard is seen moving towards the wide Lazio centre-back Francesco Acerbi and Elyounoussi closely marks Lucas Leiva, the ball carrier and the link between Lazio’s defence and attack.
Similarly, Lazio adopted the same approach when Celtic had the ball. Celtic allowed 10.87 passes per defensive action (PPDA) in this match compared to 9.08 in the last match against Lazio and 8.07 in the season. This indicates their pendulum pressing in the middle of the park rather than aggressive pressing.
Pendulum pressing with three-man in the midfield left too much space for the wide centre-backs to move up and create an overload in the wings.
Here, Luiz Felipe had too much of space to make a progressive run to the final third and create an overload in the wings. The wide centre-backs made 12 progressive runs in the match. Acerbi made eight progressive runs in this match while on average he made mere 1.51 progressive runs this season and Felipe made four progressive runs in this match while his average this season is 2.44.
Celtic’s failed tactics and Lazio’s long ball approach
Celtic midfielders did very little to close the gap with the Lazio players and left too much of time and space to make composed decisions.
The first goal came from a similar situation when Celtic midfielders overloaded the Lazio left flank since Lazio attacked from that side. Immobile who dropped deep quickly switched the flank and passed the ball to Lazzari who had way too much time to cross the ball. Immobile made a run in the box losing his marker and slid the ball past Fraser Forster to give Lazio the lead from Lazzari’s cross.
Lazio took another advantage of the huge space left by the Celtic midfielders. Inzaghi instructed the centre-backs to put long balls to dismantle the Celtic defensive setup.
Lazio centre-backs produced beautiful long balls throughout the game. One such occasion in the first half clearly depicts Celtic’s limitations. Celtic forwards kept tabs on Leiva and Christie did not press higher as was instructed by Lennon. It left Acerbi with too much time and space to produce a beautiful long ball to Sergej Milinković-Savić. Unfortunately for Lazio, Milinković-Savić’s first touch was poor and it did not result in affecting the result.
Lazio centre-backs produced 22 long balls in the entire game. Acerbi was at the forefront of it – he produced 14 long balls with an accuracy of 64%.
Forrest’s positioning conundrum
Forrest felt difficulty in adjusting to the new role he was given by Lennon. He was caught off guard on numerous occasions during transitions as well as during Lazio attack.
In the second half during a Lazio counter, Forrest was nowhere to be seen to prevent the counter. He could not fall back at a time that created an enormous opportunity for Lazio. Fraser Forster came to Celtic’s rescue with a brilliant save from Luis Alberto’s shot. This happened numerous times in the second half when Celtic tried to be more adventurous in their attack.
Forrest was slow and could not trackback on time which prompted Lazio to exploit the space left by Forrest on the left-hand side.
The five counter-attacks Lazio created, three came from the left flank exploiting the space left by Forrest.
Forrest was clearly struggling in the second half when he was instructed to be more adventurous.
He failed to understand his position and was often seen in such positions, marking no one. He was in two minds whether to sit back at his position or to be further up to help during attacks. Forrest instructed Elhamed to mark Luis Alberto and he occupied a further position up the field. It prompted Lennon to bring on Moritz Bauer for Forrest to see off the game.
Immobile and Milinković-Savić’s interchange in position
Immobile is in enormous form scoring 15 goals in 14 matches in all competitions this season. He was behind most of the attacks for Lazio against Celtic.
His position has been intriguing. He often dropped deep to receive the ball. It prompted Milinković-Savić to take his place further up the field.
The first goal came through such tactics. Immobile dropped deep to receive the ball. Milinković-Savić took his position and troubled the centre-backs. Immobile passed the ball to Lazzari and made a run towards the Celtic box losing his marker. Lazzari’s cross found Immobile and he finished it with much ease to give Lazio the lead.
Another notable moment came in the second half. When Acerbi was left with too much of space to put a beautiful cross in the box for Milinković-Savić.
The position of both players just before the cross was interesting. Immobile dropped slightly deeper to give a passing option. He senses an opportunity for a cross and both Immobile and Milinković-Savić make a run in the box which troubled Hayes and Ajer and could not block the path of their runs. It resulted in a header from Milinković-Savić, which was saved brilliantly by Forster again.
Édouard had a massive influence on the game. He constantly threatened the opposition defence with his dribbling and intelligent first touch.
He constantly dropped deep, drawing out Lazio centre-backs in the process and released his teammates for a quick counter-attack.
A clearance by Ajer fell to the feet of Édouard who dropped deep and drew out Denis Vavro, used his dribbling ability to go past him and released Elyounoussi to take on two Lazio defenders with a simple pass.
He tried eight dribbles past the Lazio players and intercepted four balls. He latched on to the miss pass by Valon Berisha to provide the all-important assist for the winner.
Lazio were unfortunate to lose the game. They had more chances and had an xG of 1.68 compared to Celtic’s 0.69. The two goals of Celtic came from the three errors made by Lazio players in their defensive third. Celtic took full advantage of the errors made by the Lazio players in their own half.
Inzaghi’s analysis was on point. He tried to play with long balls from the back when Celtic overloaded their defensive third with bodies.
He used his wide centre-backs to overload the wings occasionally and carry their attack through the wings which is quite evident from this chart.
It’s quite difficult for Lazio to qualify for the next round after the loss to Celtic. They are currently third, six points behind the second-placed CFR Cluj with two games to play.
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