Lazio’s baffling season: The Biancocelesti are teetering between calamity and history

Lazio are facing a crucial moment in their 2023/24 season as they stand on the cusp of the Champions League quarter-finals, with their Serie A campaign imploding.

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Since the opening day of the season, Lazio have been a perplexing team to work out.

Last season’s runners-up kicked off 2023/24 with back-to-back defeats against Lecce and Genoa and from then on, the questions have kept coming and become ever-more exasperated.

Almost everything you can think of has been targeted at one point or another as a potential reason for the maddening consistency of Maurizio Sarri’s side, a team as capable of beating Bayern Munich as they are to spectacularly implode against Salernitana.

At first, there were questions over what happened to last season’s record-breaking defence, then the blunt attack came under fire, while a raft of summer signings who looked promising at the time but have largely failed to deliver has been put under the lens too.

Sarri is under fire but there was promise for 2024

Sarri himself has faced more criticism than at any other point in his almost three-year spell in the Eternal City due to his team’s stagnant style and his inability to address the ever-distracted mentality that he himself has admitted is an issue within the squad.

The coach has struggled with this team like a man endlessly tugging the pull cord on a rusty old chainsaw that splutters, coughs and stalls until eventually it roars into life unexpectedly.

Be that as it may, Lazio came into 2024 in a very strong position to make this stuttering season one of their best in recent memory.

They were right in the mix for a top-four finish and had a last-16 Champions League tie and Coppa Italia semi-final to look forward to.

But fast forward two damaging months, and the first of those three prongs has disintegrated.

Lazio had a golden chance to put their foot on the throttle and pull out in front of a congested pack chasing a Champions League spot, but instead they picked up just one point against direct top-four rivals Napoli, Atalanta, Bologna, Fiorentina and AC Milan.

In Friday’s 1-0 loss to Milan, the Biancocelesti were left infuriated by a string of baffling calls by referee Marco Di Bello, who sent off three Lazio players and has since reportedly been suspended from Serie A duties until May as punishment for his performance.

But once the dust settled, the league table didn’t make for calming reading either, with AS Roma now seven points ahead in a fifth-place spot that could well be the final Champions League place this year ahead of the new format coming in.  

With a top-seven finish now looking like a more realistic objective in Serie A, the question is rightly being raised of what would now constitute a good season for the Roman club.

Potential Champions League quarter-final juxtaposes poor Serie A form

Amid the rage and frustration around recent league performances, it’s easy to forget that Lazio’s trip to Munich on Tuesday is one of the biggest games of the last 20 years for the club and a historic opportunity.

Sarri’s side were at their resilient, clinical best in the first leg as they earned a shock 1-0 win and stopped Bayern from having a single shot on target.

In the two weeks between ties, the German champions have failed to flip their poor form on its head, picking up four points from three games since their trip to Rome and backing manager Thomas Tuchel to see out the season despite the evident issues.

Lazio Champions league
Lazio players celebrate in the Champions League. [@OfficialSSLazio]

There is little doubt that facing a team with such European pedigree and boasting such a star-studded squad in their home ground will present an almighty challenge for Lazio, regardless of Bayern’s recent form.

But it also presents a chance to turn this baffling, stop-start season into one that will be etched into the club’s history.

Only once have Lazio reached a Champions League quarter-final, and that was in the Scudetto-winning season of 1999/00, when Sinisa Mihajlovic was in his pomp knocking in outrageous free-kicks at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

That year they were eliminated by eventual runners-up Valencia, and since then a run to the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 2002/03 was as exciting as things have got for Lazio in Europe.

It is perhaps fitting that this most perplexing of Lazio teams is in a position to make this one of their greatest-ever European campaigns while they implode in Serie A over the weekend.

So what will it be, misery or history? This week will define how 2023/24 is remembered for good.

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