25 September 2006

Lazio 1-0 Atalanta: wins and losses

Lazio got its second consecutive win and brought themselves three points closer to eliminating their penalty with a 1-0 win against Serie B champions Atalanta on Sunday. Although it was not nearly as decisive as I had predicted, the win was not unduly difficult to achieve.

Lazio started their expected lineup, except Marco Ballotta started in net instead of Angelo Peruzzi. It was announced on Saturday that Peruzzi was suffering from a mild wrist injury and would be a game-time decision. Obviously he was not feeling 100%, and Ballotta got the nod from Delio Rossi. Ballotta looked sharp as ever in goal, and smothered or blocked away the few serious shots made against him. He did face two one-on-one attacks from sharp angles, which he cut off nicely.

Lazio's midfield continues to improve. The Foggia-Mudingayi-Ledesma-Mauri line seems to be working better as a whole. Atalanta knew that they wanted to stop the biancoceleste midfield from generating chances, and tried to congest the center of the pitch as much as possible. Despite this tactic, Lazio was not stifled like they were against Milan in the season opener. It was difficult to get long balls up the field and into the control of the forwards or attacking midfielders, but passes through the middle were not completely unproductive and Lazio seldom lost possession without ample challenge.

On offense Lazio still found its most successful opportunities coming from set pieces. Two shots in rapid succession following from a Oddo free kick in the 37th minute were blocked by a frantic Calderoni and stopped Lazio from taking the lead. Other than some failed crosses, that would be the best offense of the first half. However, that could be attributed to the fact that Atalanta perceived Rocchi as a huge threat, often putting two, three, or even four defensemen on him to forcibly take away the ball.

At the start of the second half Rossi put in Makinwa in favor of Pandev, who again seemed sluggish and unable to generate scoring chances. Makinwa seemed to be a good kick-start to the offense, and created a chance in the box. A few minutes later, Makinwa was again challenging for the ball at the Atalanta end line. He got tangled with his defender and came away limping. The ball was put out of play and he walked it off for a minute, but as soon as play resumed, he could not continue. After playing only six minutes he had to be brought out and Igli Tare was put in as the second striker.

The fact that Igli had to play at all proved to be a saving grace for Lazio. Bringing all of his Albanian height to the box to generate high-flying header opportunities was too much of a changeup for the Atalanta defense. On a Lazio corner in the 69th minute Igli came flying forward (actually low to the ground, but still using every inch of his reach!) and deflected the ball on net. The header itself may well have been headed for the nylon, but Sebastiano Siviglia made sure with a sliding putaway. Lazio was able to control the ball for most of the remainder of the game and only let Atalanta even get down towards the box a couple more times. After 4 minutes of recupero, the whistle blew to seal the victory.

And what happened to Makinwa that he had to leave the match? KataWeb reports today that he suffered a hamstring pull and following an MRI it has been determined that he will be unable to play for approximately a month. That will prove to be a damper on Lazio's offense, which has been relying on Makinwa for second-half play and should really be starting him in place of Pandev. At least Tare played well on Sunday, and it would be good to see him more on the pitch—sometimes it feels like Lazio is just paying him to be the token goofy giant Albanian guy on the bench. On the flip side of the injury report, there is no indication that Peruzzi shouldn't be available for this weekend's match at Torino.

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