Lazio have a strange relationship with the Europa League. Europe’s secondary competition is a familiar stage for the Biancocelesti, but not one they’ve often performed their best work on.
Surprisingly, the Roman club are the fourth most successful club in the Europa League era in terms of overall results; only Villarreal, Sevilla and RB Salzburg have racked up more than their total haul of 86 points.
It’s strange, then, that Lazio haven’t ever made a significant mark in the competition since it was rebranded.
Two runs to the quarter-finals are as good as it has got, but otherwise early exits have been the norm.
Lazio have more strength in depth
You don’t have to possess remarkable detective skills to work out why that is.
Performing well in Europe and Serie A simultaneously requires strong squad depth and effective rotation, two things the blue club of Rome have often lacked.
In the past, when it’s come down to it, the league has been seen as the priority and potentially fruitful European campaigns have evaporated as a result.
However, at the outset of 2022/23 there was reason to hope that this situation could be managed better in Maurizio Sarri’s second year in charge.
Lazio’s squad depth was bolstered over the summer. Luis Maximiano, Nicolo Casale, Mario Gila, Matias Vecino, Marcos Antonio and Matteo Cancellieri were all brought in, but are yet to feature regularly.
Which brings us to the second key to a good European and domestic balance: effective rotation.
Sarri keeps things conservative at Lazio
Sarri has been reluctant to shuffle his deck much this season. Since Maximiano’s disastrous debut on the opening day against Bologna ended in a red card, Ivan Provedel has (deservedly) been the starting goalkeeper.
Otherwise, Vecino and Toma Basic have had chances to alternate with Luis Alberto in midfield, and that’s been about it in the way of rotation.
For that reason, a keen eye was cast on Sarri’s selection against Feyenoord on Thursday.
In the end he was conservative again, making three changes and only one of particular interest, handing a starting debut to young centre-back Gila.
Leaving so many fresh players on the bench was a bit of a surprise, as the likes of Ciro Immobile, Felipe Anderson and Mattia Zaccagni were asked to cover more tiring metres despite the relentless fixture list that lies ahead.
But you can’t dispute the end result. The performance against Feyenoord was terrific, blowing away the Dutch side early and easily with a sharp, incisive attacking display.
But now comes the real test; whether they can back that up by beating Verona on Sunday.
Lazio’s post-Europa League curse
The period ahead will tell us a lot about how far Lazio have come since year one under their coach.
The club’s start to life under Sarri was plagued by an inability to follow up European nights with a creditable performance in Serie A.
Lazio won one game, drew two and lost five (including 4-1 vs Verona and 3-0 vs Bologna) in their league matches that came directly after European games last season.
Sarri’s team certainly seem to be playing more in his image now than they did back then, as the terrific recent win over Inter demonstrated in particular.
The conservative rotation policy so far may simply be a method to give new faces time to settle in, or to get the first-choice core of players as comfortable as possible with the system at the outset of a long campaign.
Be that as it may, Sarri will need to use, and trust, his full arsenal of talents if he’s to achieve a feat that Lazio coaches have found impossible in recent years – combining a strong Serie A season with a good European run.