Lazio: Five things to know about 2019’s Coppa Italia winners
Lazio won the Coppa Italia for the seventh time in their history thanks to a 2-0 win over Atalanta.
It was close encounter at the Stadio Olimpico – Lazio’s home ground – and the opening goal came as late as the 82nd minute through Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
Joaquin Correa then wrapped up the win, and the trophy, in injury time to hand Lazio a place in next season’s Europa League group stage.
But, what do you need to know about Lazio’s cup-winning side?
1. The curious case of Milinkovic-Savic
This time last season, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was being linked with a big money move away from Lazio. Manchester United were among those reportedly in for the €100m-rated Serbian ahead of the World Cup, but Lazio did well to keep hold of their midfield maestro.
Surely the next season would see Milinkovic-Savic’s stock rise even more, maximising the transfer fee Lazio could bring in. But instead, the 24-year-old has had a year to forget.
7HE HERO!!!!!#VIC7ORY 🏆 pic.twitter.com/c9cFnQjuIn
— S.S.Lazio (@OfficialSSLazio) May 15, 2019
From 14 goals and eight assists last season, Milinkovic-Savic posted just five and three in 2018/19 prior to Wednesday’s Coppa Italia final and his performances brought criticism from the Lazio support.
Although he had dealt with injury problems in the tail end of the season, Milinkovic-Savic and some fans may have been surprised to see the Serbian out of the starting XI to face Atalanta but he did have to make do with the bench.
For 79 minutes he watched on as his side struggled to break down Atalanta’s defence in their home stadium, with neither team looking likely to open the scoring.
The Serbian was his manager’s final throw of the dice with all else failing, and what a decision it proved to be. Immediately looking to impose himself down the left, Milinkovic-Savic forced a corner for his side. Lucas Leiva sent the ball in, and there was Milinkovic-Savic to head past Pierluigi Gollini and put Lazio ahead.
It may not make Lazio fans forget Milinkovic-Savic’s subpar season, but it could go some way in helping them forgive.
2. Lazio’s win at all costs ethos
For some, playing eye-catching football is a must for every team, but others will do anything necessary as long as they win. And that was certainly the case for Lazio in the Coppa Italia.
Lazio have won their seventh Coppa Italia, lifting the trophy for time since the 2012-13 season.
Only Juventus (13) and Roma (9) have won more in the competition's history. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/BenBLdjNtm
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 15, 2019
From early on it was clear what Lazio’s tactics were to limit Josip Ilicic’s impact on the game with a boat-load of little fouls across the pitch. Lazio recorded 15 fouls in total – receiving four yellow cards – and it worked perfectly, with Atalanta’s players growing annoyed with their treatment.
But it was necessary. Atalanta have been Serie A’s surprise package this season, fourth in the league and in the Coppa Italia final on merit having seen off Cagliari, Juventus and Fiorentina en route.
Whereas Wednesday’s final was a last chance saloon for Lazio. The Biancocelesti have been poor this season, currently sitting eighth in Serie A with European football looking unlikely – they are two points off sixth with two games remaining.
So not only would the Coppa Italia have meant a trophy in the cabinet – Lazio’s seventh cup in total – but also a guaranteed place in the Europa League group stage.
It wasn’t pretty, but Lazio did what was required and they can now celebrate their glory and European football in the final two games of the season.
3. Simone Inzaghi’s ruthless nature proves vital
In the final of a cup competition, a manager may not want to be too adventurous with their tactics given so much is on the line. But not Simone Inzaghi.
Despite starting the stronger of the two sides, there were still weaknesses in Lazio’s team in such a fiery and high-paced game. Centre-back Bastos had picked up an early yellow card and, rather than trusting in his man, Inzaghi made a big call.
With 35 minutes gone in the first half, Bastos was taken off for Stefan Radu. The Angolan looked surprised with his manager’s decision and walked off almost reluctantly – obviously unwilling to pull a Kepa Arrizabalaga so early on.
And what a move it turned out to be. Radu’s addition at the back brought stability to Lazio and coincided with Atalanta’s attack losing their impact.
Inzaghi’s changes were also helped by his counterpart’s lack of adventure, with Atalanta not making a substitution until Lazio had made all three.
Gian Piero Gasperini may have been expecting extra-time and, therefore, reserving his changes, but it was not to be with Inzaghi’s risks paying off.
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4. Luiz Felipe is Lazio’s rock
Though they were the favourites going into Wednesday’s match, Lazio would have been wary of Atalanta’s attacking threat. Duvan Zapata has scored 27 goals this season and was looking to add to his three Coppa Italia efforts to wrap up a shock trophy.
But Luiz Felipe had different ideas. The 22-year-old defender was simply brilliant on Wednesday, dealing with pretty much everything thrown at him.
His presence at the back gave Timothy Castagne very little room to hurt the Lazio defence once he actually got close to the area, having shown some promise deeper on the pitch.
Luiz Felipe won all five of his attempted tackles, more than any other Lazio player and also helped with two clearances and one interception.
The 22-year-old’s performances across the season have seen some reported interest from Tottenham Hotspur emerge, with the London club looking for a long-term Toby Alderweireld replacement.
And on his Coppa Italia showing, it’s clear to see why.
5. Joaquin Correa, Lazio’s Sergio Ramos (sort of)
Joaquin Correa is not a centre-back, rather a dangerous attacking midfielder who caused havoc on Atalanta’s defence. But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have his Sergio Ramos moment.
With the game still level going into the final 10 minutes, Correa won a foul midway through the Atalanta half – Papu Gomez the guilty party.
But, akin to Ramos’ Champions League final effort on Mohamed Salah, Correa fell down with Gomez’s arm trapped underneath him – causing pain to his compatriot.
Although it was not enough to force Gomez off, it did come shortly before Lazio took control of the game with the opening goal.
And, much like Ramos in the past, Correa popped up to score a crucial goal, securing the win with a one-man counter-attack late on, breaking Atalanta hearts.