x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Lazio's unbreakable spirit

Bosnian coach Vladimir Petkovic is maximising his squad's potential, writes Ian Hawkey.

Lazio's Hernanes, centre, scored his fourth goal of the Serie A campaign against Pescara. Ettore Ferrari / EPA
Lazio's Hernanes, centre, scored his fourth goal of the Serie A campaign against Pescara. Ettore Ferrari / EPA

The third best team in Serie A left out their most expensive player for the trip to Pescara.

The maverick Mauro Zarate had been excluded, said his head coach Vladimir Petkovic, "for technical reasons".

Those were easily interpreted as having some connection with Zarate's negative body language during the Europa League win over the Slovenian side Maribor three days earlier. In his six minutes as a substitute Zarate had looked petulantly indifferent.

Petkovic has challenged the Argentine to fight his way back into the squad, although with Lazio on a run of three successive wins, and sitting just four points behind the joint league leaders, Juventus and Napoli, it will be hard.

"He can still be useful for us," said the Bosnian, "but it's up to him."

Zarate needed only listen to the words of various colleagues after Sunday's 3-0 win to realise he must sing from an unfamiliar song sheet if he is to enjoy the current ride.

Miroslav Klose, the author of his fourth and fifth goals in the league, talked of "sacrifice and a team where everybody runs for each other".

The club president, Claudio Lotito, praised the squad's unity, and "will to win" and backed Petkovic's decision to drop Zarate, in whom Lazio invested €20 million (Dh95m) three years ago, the biggest single deal of Lotito's presidency.

By contrast, the entire value, in terms of what Lazio paid in transfer fees, of the eleven who took the field in Pescara, was just over €42m, or the same price as one defender, Thiago Silva, cost Paris Saint-Germain from AC Milan in July.

The secret of this frugally assembled Lazio's bright start? Partly it is Petkovic, who really was a secret when he was appointed in the summer to succeed Edy Reja.

"Vladimir who?" asked unimpressed fans of the 49 year old who had a modest playing record in Yugoslav football behind him and had coached only in Switzerland and Turkey.

Now newspapers refer to "PetkoLazio". It is a term of praise.

The Bosnian is maximising the potential of the gifted Hernanes, who scored again - his fourth of the Serie A campaign - against Pescara and who is combining fruitfully with Klose.

Another upping his game is the much-travelled Antonio Candreva, recalled after a three-year international absence to the Italy squad.

"The coach has been a breath of fresh air, and given me consistency," said the former Juventus, Parma and Livorno midfielder, who is on loan from Udinese.

Vlad the Obscure has become Vlad the Inspired.

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