MOrzio Sarri was not trying to send a message. His decision to leave Luis Alberto out of Lazio’s starting line-up to face Inter on Friday was simply a choice to trust Matthias Vecino to manage the left side of his midfield. The Uruguayan arrived in Rome this summer, but he went a long way with Sarri working together at Empoli in 2014-15.
Much has changed since then, but Vecino’s strengths have remained the same: strong physique, positional discipline, and a willingness to play vertically: using direct guidance to help his team break lines. His gifts are less attractive than Alberto’s, but he’s tactically a useful piece of the puzzle.
And who needs detailed messages, anyway, when you can count on old-fashioned SMS messages? Sergei Milinkovic-Savic has been the only truly indispensable element in the Lazio midfield for at least the past six seasons. Everyone mentioned why when he made the opening goal against Inter with a radius on Felipe Anderson’s head, like the Brazilian. Attack the rear pillar.
It was Milinkovic-Savic’s 13th assist since the start of last season: the most played in Europe’s top five leagues. Another chance to enjoy the exotic talents of a midfielder who is built as a central defender but is blessed with the ingenious touch of a midfielder. fantasist. Another moment to wonder how he was still here at 27 years old.
Few would have expected such a scenario in 2018, when Lazio’s owner, Claudio Lotito, claimed he had turned down offers worth 110 million euros. Milinkovic-Savic scored 12 goals last season and drew Inquiries from Barcelona and Manchester United. His departure seemed only a matter of time. Lazio’s total revenue in the accounts for that year was less than 200 million euros. They couldn’t dig out their heels forever.
However, they have so far done so. Perhaps it was a hoax that went wrong, Lotito setting his asking price too high, or perhaps these potential buyers weren’t sure enough yet to fully commit to the chase. Milinkovic-Savic dipped the following season, with an ankle injury playing a role as his numbers dropped to just five. Italian Serie A Goals and three assists in 2018-2019.
Since then, his trajectory has been only upward: seven goals and four assists in 2019-20, eight goals and nine assists in 2020-21 and 11 of each in 2021-22. There were links with United again this summerBut Lotito again refused to be bullied about the price. Milinkovic-Savic’s contract expires in 2024, but a possible sale proposal at around 50 million euros has been rejected.
Lazio’s lineup was radically revised last year. Only four players featured in the starting lineup for Friday’s clash with Inter were Simone Inzaghi’s last game before leaving to take charge of the team. Nerazzurri In June 2021. Gradually Sarri molded the team to his own image, adapting it from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3, making Danilo Cataldi the centerpiece of the midfield and reinventing Manuel Lazzari as a defender.
It was a subtle shift. Lazio consistently exceeded expectations under Inzaghi’s leadership, Winning the Italian Cup once and Supercoppa twice as well as qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in 13 years. His team looked ready for a real title challenge before the pandemic spread.
Lazio were up by one point initially when play was halted in March 2020. He had beaten Juventus 3-1 twice in December and beat Inter in February as well. But when the season resumed, the momentum faded. They collected one point from their first five matches in July.
But Sarri knew he could not succeed simply by trying to recreate his predecessor’s best works. He hasn’t shied away from the tough decisions to reshape the squad, but his desire to leave Alberto out of the squad this season continues to surprise many. The Spaniard contributed five goals and 10 assists last season and was widely seen, along with Milinkovic-Savic and Ciro Immobile, as an untouchable element of the squad.
apparently not. Alberto played a total of 33 minutes in two matches on the bench as Lazio opened their season with a home win over Bologna and a draw away to Torino. He would get that number again against Inter, sent by Sarri with Pedro to replace Vecino and Mattia Zacani in the 57th minute.
The score was now 1-1, after Lautaro Martinez equalized at the start of the second half. Rather than back off and try to protect the draw, Sarri saw this as the moment for a counter punch. “It seemed to me as if Inter were losing some power in midfield,” he later said. “I felt I could take the risk of sending in two players who are a bit lighter but they are very technical.”
This gamble paid off well. In the 75th minute, Pedro sent the ball to Alberto on the edge of the penalty area. Shot into the upper right corner of the net.
In post-match interviews, Alberto called it “one of the most beautiful goals of my career”. He followed that up with a celebration worthy of the feat, as he crunched his arms and put his hands over his ears below the Corva Nord at the Olympic Stadium. Some observers read these actions as a letter to Sari. Others simply saw a football player sharing his joy with the fans.
He will have a hand in the final goal as well, as he played a pass into the penalty area for Immobile, who appeared to have been fouled by Mathieu Darmian. When some Lazio players demanded a penalty kick, Pedro arrived to hit the ball into the far corner and win 3-1.
Alberto dominated the headlines the next day, with inevitable questions about how the manager could justify continuing to dismiss such a game-changing player. It was Milinkovic-Savic who refereed this match.
Wherever I looked, he was there: resting his arm carelessly on Federico Dimarco’s shoulder as he hauls him away with a backhoe or bringing Alessandro Bastoni, the face of a new generation of Italian defenders, to his knees. Besides their direct impact, such moments broke the ambiguity of the opponent. Inter arrived as title favorites, and had chances to win the match with a 1-1 draw, but all the bravado belonged to the home team.
Even Alberto owes it to Milinkovic-Savic for his goal. The Serbian assisted with the assist, somehow spotting Pedro on the other side of the field despite being ahead of his teammate and having no fewer than five Inter players. His passes were just as important as the kick that ended the movement.
Read Milinkovic-Savic’s post on Instagram afterwards “Afraid of Nobody”, in which he sent an SMS to the league. Lazio supporters are counting down the days of the transfer window and shedding their familiar fears that he could be handed elsewhere.