ROME: A winning goal with 10 seconds to go, in front of a packed home Stadio Olimpico crowd, against your former club? Debuts don’t get much better than the one Igor Tudor enjoyed as Lazio coach on Saturday.

It was a dream start to what remains a formidable task facing the Croatian.

No sooner had he put his feet under the desk at Formello than he was faced with an opening week where he would face Juventus twice – a rematch coming in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg on Tuesday night in Turin – before the small matter of the Derby della Capitale on Saturday.

Daunting fixture list aside, the toughest questions facing Tudor were how to succeed where his predecessor had failed this season. Β 

The former Hellas Verona and Marseille boss had every reason to feel that he was walking into a firestorm with a water pistol when he took the Lazio job.

Maurizio Sarri‘s resignation was the biggest indication yet that the squad’s mental frailty could not be fixed without drastic measures, coming after a run of five defeats in six games in a season where they were averaging just over one goal per game.

Adam Marusic and Ciro Immobile celebrate a Lazio goal. (@OfficialSSLazio)

As a player and now as a coach, Tudor isn’t exactly known as a character who pulls his punches, so a more focused and determined-looking Lazio side was the bare minimum that the fans packing into the Olimpico expected to see.

Beyond that, there was plenty of intrigue about how a team that has spent the last two-and-a-half years rigidly sticking to Sarri‘s 4-3-3 formation would fare after just a handful of training sessions getting used to the 3-4-2-1 preferred by Tudor.

And finally, Tudor‘s stated aim of attacking in numbers certainly got the fans excited after a season of often painful viewing in the final third.

By the time the full-time whistle blew, there was plenty to be encouraged about on all three fronts.

Tudor took everyone by surprise by benching Matteo Guendouzi, Lazio‘s best player this season whose excellent form was rewarded with a France recall during the international break, for the rarely-seen Daichi Kamada, explaining pre-match that he preferred to select players who had not been away on international duty.

Taty Castellanos was preferred to Ciro Immobile up front after scoring twice against Frosinone before the break, while Luis Alberto failed a late fitness test, meaning Pedro got a rare start.

Adam Marusic celebrates a Lazio goal. (@OfficialSSLazio)

But it was immediately clear that Tudor had succeeded in getting his squad fired up for the game.

They played with authority and courage, dominating possession and pushing numbers forward as promised, while the last-second winner was a rarely-spotted example of this team possessing enough belief and conviction to fight to the end.

Tactically, Lazio looked impressively slick as they moved between a back three in possession to a back four off the ball, Marusic the key man as he switched between right-back and right wing-back between phases.

In defence, a new man-marking approach succeeded as little was given away. Nicolo Casale seems to have rediscovered his – fragile – confidence under his old Verona boss, Mario Gila looked like Alessandro Nesta reborn at one point with an epic half-pitch sprint and perfectly-executed slide tackle in the box, and Marusic put in his best performance of the season by a mile.

But it was going forward that the most encouraging steps were taken. Gila and Casale joined in with the attacks as Lazio pinned Juventus back and put some slick passing moves together.

Having four attacking players on the pitch together – Castellanos, Pedro, Felipe Anderson and Mattia Zaccagni – was something never seen under Sarri and allowed Lazio to pack the forward areas with technically gifted players.

Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny clears the ball (@Juventusfcen)

That meant they could hold the ball in the top end of the pitch, something of a novelty for the home crowd.

Lazio made 171 passes in final third, more than in any of their recent matches and a complete transformation from their last two big games against AC Milan and Fiorentina, when Lazio mustered 54 and 42 final third passes respectively.

However, the poor finishing that has plagued this team all season continued. Of Lazio‘s 16 shots, only four found the target. Castellanos missed two big chances in the first half, while as Juventus retreated deeper and deeper after the break, they were restricted to shots from distance until Marusic had the foresight to make a direct run and Guendouzi had the quality to find him in stoppage time.

As late as it came, it was a deserved win for a side that finished the game with 65% possession and superior numbers in almost every metric, from shots to corners, ball recoveries to distance covered.

Granted, Lazio met Juventus at a good time, with Massimiliano Allegri badly struggling to get a tune out of a side that is winless in four and has claimed just one victory in their last nine matches.

But considering the scale of change – formation, coaching team, starting XI – Lazio‘s start under Tudor should be viewed as an authoritative performance in its own right, not simply as a further indictment of Juventus’ problems.

The rest of this week will tell us much more about the scale of Tudor‘s impact, but as debuts go, this was better than most Lazio supporters would have dreamed.