MILAN: Lazio’s generally impressive record in two-and-a-half seasons under coach Simone Inzaghi has been spoiled by one significant failing — their dismal performances against the top sides.
After being exposed in a 2-1 defeat at Napoli in their last game, that record will again come under the spotlight when they host runaway leaders Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
Juventus, still unbeaten after 20 games, have a nine-point lead over Napoli while Lazio are sixth, two points outside the top four places which earn a place in next season’s Champions League.
Napoli themselves visit fourth-placed AC Milan who are set to give a debut to new signing Krzysztof Piatek following his move from Genoa, where he scored 19 goals in 21 appearances.
Lazio can only realistically hope to qualify for the Champions League if can break their jinx in matches against Italy’s top clubs — AC Milan, Inter Milan, Napoli, AS Roma and Juventus themselves.
Often irresistible and free-scoring against teams from the lower half of the table and boasting one of the most individually gifted line-ups in Serie A, Lazio become lacklustre and vulnerable when facing more illustrious teams.
So far this season, they have lost five and drawn one of their six games against teams from that elite group, their only point coming in a 1-1 draw at home to Milan.
It was the same in the previous two seasons under Inzaghi with one win, two draws and seven defeats in 10 matches in 2016-17 and two wins, two draws and six defeats last season.
The most costly of those was a 3-2 loss at home to Inter Milan on the last day of last season which meant they missed out on the Champions League and their opponents qualified in their place.
Needing a draw at home to finish fourth, Lazio lead 2-1 with 15 minutes left but lost 3-2 and were edged out by Inter’s better head-to-head record.
“We’ve got to try to turn incidents our way,” said Inzaghi during the winter break. “We need to be positive and concentrated, showing the right character.”
“We already showed last season that we can do well against the big clubs,” he said referring to their wins against AC Milan and Juventus.
Inzaghi, the younger of former AC Milan forward and current Bologna coach Filippo, was initially appointed as a stopgap for the last seven matches of the 2015-16 season.
He then made way for Marcelo Bielsa and had reached an agreement to coach Serie B side Salernitana but was then recalled after the Argentine remarkably quit after only two days at the helm.
Since then, he has led Lazio to successive fifth-placed finishes in the league.
A win against Juventus on Sunday would breathe new life into Serie A and maybe give his own team the extra momentum they need to reach the Champions League.