Lazio rediscover steel to stun Bayern Munich – and without their best team too

Lazio turned in a wonderful performance against Bayern Munich that had big hints of their 2022/23 style, and they did it with many of Maurizio Sarri's favoured players out injured.

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STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome): At times sitting in a chilly Stadio Olimpico press box on Wednesday night, it felt like going back in time. But not in the way Lazio might have expected or, let’s be honest, feared.  

There was some trepidation among laziali heading to the ground that an angry Bayern Munich side with a point to prove would unleash their fury in Rome, much as they did when a self-destructive Lazio capitulated to a 4-1 defeat in this same fixture three years ago.

Instead, Ciro Immobile’s penalty secured a famous, jaw-dropping 1-0 victory that few, if any, had predicted. The secret to their success? We finally saw Lazio play like the side that finished as runners-up last season again.

Lazio rediscover their former selves

Lazio Champions League
Lazio’s Felipe Anderson and Ciro Immobile celebrate in the Champions League. [@OfficialSSLazio]

Maurizio Sarri’s men have struggled to replicate their 2022/23 form following a summer of big change that saw the influential Sergej Milinkovic-Savic leave and a host of new recruits arrive.

But on Wednesday, Lazio rediscovered the magic touch that propelled them so high up the league last year, and then some.

Lazio did two things brilliantly last year: they defended incredibly well and were brutally clinical in front of goal. A club record 22 league clean sheets in 38 league games was an absurd total, while they regularly outperformed their xG at the other end of the pitch.

Their home record this season has been encouraging; only Genoa and Inter have beaten them at the Olimpico in all competitions, and Sarri’s side have kept 11 clean sheets in Rome including four in a row against Roma, Lecce, Napoli and Bayern.

But they haven’t consistently shown the same resilience, with five Serie A sides including Torino and Bologna having a better record than the Biancocelesti’s 24 goals conceded.

Sarri’s side turn it on against Bayern

That changed on Wednesday. A Sarri masterclass and laser-focused effort from the players saw them suffocate space, run their legs off in both phases, and stay resolutely one step ahead of Bayern’s glittering cast of attackers.

Mario Gila and Alessio Romagnoli kept Harry Kane shut out of the game, Gustav Isaksen and the tireless Felipe Anderson supported the full-backs in locking down the wings, and Matteo Guendouzi showed the astonishing capacity of his petrol tank in a man-of-the-match performance in the centre of the park.

When the full-time whistle blew, it was just the second time in eight years that Bayern had finished a game in any competition without a single shot on target – and the first since a 0-0 Champions League draw against eventual champions Liverpool in 2018/19.

It was quite the statement from Lazio in just their second-ever Champions League knockout win – and their first since beating Valencia 24 years ago.

Lazio’s heavily rotated squad

What was even more encouraging was that they rediscovered the style and substance that made them such a force last season with a new-look side. This was undoubtedly the standout moment of Gila’s astonishing rise from fourth-choice forgotten man to nailed-on starter while Patric returns to full fitness.

Elseid Hysaj put in a solid performance just four days after finding himself back in the starting side for the first time in two-and-a-half months.

Lazio were already without their first-choice regista Nicolo Rovella in the centre of the park, and then had to deal with Matias Vecino dropping out injured in the warm-up.

That forced Danilo Cataldi not only to unexpectedly start, but to play a full, exhausting 90 minutes with no other options left on the bench.

In attack, starting winger Mattia Zaccagni was out injured so the talented but raw Isaksen started – and despite missing a big chance early in the second half, he caused issues for Bayern all night and won the decisive penalty.

From back to front, Lazio were without key players – imagine what they could have done with a full-strength team…

There is little chance of Lazio fans getting too worked up thinking about a possible quarter-final, as the trip to Munich on March 5 for the second leg will be an altogether different challenge.

But regardless of what happens in Germany, this team has proven not only to the public, but to itself, what they are capable of. And that could have big implications for how they finish a season where they are still fighting on three fronts.

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