Vladimir Petkovic is without several first choice defenders, with Abdoulay Konko, Andre Dias and Bruno Pereirinha injured and Giuseppe Biava suspended, so Alvaro Gonzalez is likely to continue at right back. His place in midfield will be filled by either Stefano Mauri or Honorato Ederson. Lazio have struggled without Miroslav Klose in attack following the German’s long injury layoff, but after appearing from the bench in midweek the forward may return to the starting XI.
With Lazio having knocked Juventus out of the Coppa Italia, and their Champions League dream ended by Bayern Munich, Antonio Conte only has Serie A to play for and can field his strongest side. Fabio Quagliarella and Mirko Vucinic are the current incumbents of the forward positions.
Lazio will be desperate to recapture the form they showed prior to Klose’s injury, having won just 1 of the 6 league games without him. This run has seen them drop out of the Champions League places, and with Roma and Inter Milan not far behind there is a chance they could fail to qualify for Europe all together. For Conte the league is not yet assured. Having suggested that Italian football needs to adapt to challenge in Europe, it is surely in Juventus’ interest to secure the title as quickly as possible to allow for experimentation towards the end of the campaign.
Both teams field five midfielders in a similar arrangement, so the differences are felt at either end of the pitch as both managers enjoy a two-man advantage in defence. Lazio customarily play with a lone target man, but he will find himself watched by Juventus’ excellent defensive trio. The host’s centre backs Lorik Cana and Michael Ciani will find themselves marking Vucinic and Quagliarella with Gonzalez and Stefan Radu free at full backs.
Either side can use this advantage for in differing ways. Lazio will look to get their full backs forward to support attacks and create an advantage on the flanks; Juventus’ central defenders, especially Giorgio Chiellini, will use the time afforded them to advance into midfield or make direct passes to the forwards. Neither manager will be comfortable leaving their defenders without a numerical advantage, but the tactical arrangement allows both manager to use a defender in an attacking capacity.
Lazio’s Width Advantage
Following on from the last point, Lazio’s main source of success against 3-5-2 variations should be their advantage out wide, being one of the few Serie A sides that play with genuine wide midfielders and attacking full backs. Senad Lulic and Antonio Candreva will be tracked by Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner, but both Radu and Gonzalez should be able to advance relatively freely. Juventus are far stronger individually, but the wings are an area Lazio should be able to exploit.
This is also where Miroslav Klose is such an advantage, as few players could compete with three defenders in the air like the German is capable of. Should he continue to miss out, he would be a massive loss.
The midfield arrangement leaves two players free: Cristian Ledesma and Andrea Pirlo. Clearly these players are fielded for separate purposes. Ledesma protects Lazio’s defence, while Pirlo looks to find space from where to play penetrating passes. Their influence will depend on how the game is played. Should Lazio’s midfield advance into Pirlo’s space, either in an attacking or defensive capacity, the playmaker may be blunted. Contrastingly if midfield space is at a premium and Ledesma is required to move the ball forward, the limited Argentine and his team may struggle.
As in any Serie A match at present, Juventus start as favourites. The home side’s width does give them a means to attack the league leaders, but they are unlikely to use it as well as the possible space granted Pirlo. Lazio looked a little stronger against Roma last weekend, and certainly seem uplifted by the return of Klose, but they still resemble a team waiting for the season to end. Petkovic will know that European qualification is a must, and any points gained against Juventus will be a bonus.