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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Every weekend, the Inzaghi brothers, Pippo and Simone, share their congratulations or commiserations. It is the habit of a lifetime. Both were renowned strikers in Serie A through the 1990s and 2000s, when Pippo tended to have more to celebrate, for his accomplished penalty-box poaching in the colours of Juventus, AC Milan and Italy, for whom he won a World Cup.
Simone, the younger by three years, was an able forward, too, and devoted the best part of his career to Lazio, while turning out for the Azzurri a handful of times. He won a memorable league title with the Rome club in 2000. When he was asked to become the club’s head coach, in April 2016, it was initially as a caretaker, a respected figure but a novice to senior management, and the idea was that he would keep the seat warm for the planned arrival of Marcello Bielsa. Bielsa, now at Leeds United, came and went within a week, and Inzaghi took over again. Three-and-a-half years later, he has built a side to bear comparison with Lazio’s champions of 20 years ago.
Last weekend, they won their 11th Serie A match on the trot, a resonant achievement both in their city - Roma, whom Lazio play Sunday, have long boasted of their 11-match sequence of victories in the 2005/06 season - and indeed in the home of Pippo and Simone’s parents. Since October, weekends have delivered a double joy to casa Inzaghi. Pippo, 46, is head coach of Serie B’s Benevento, top of their division, on course for promotion and unbeaten in their last 11 league games. The older brother was pipped last weekend, though: Benevento only drew with Pisa, as Simone’s Lazio collected their 33rd Serie A point from the last 33.
The older Inzaghi has had his up and downs in management: a single season in charge at Milan, who finished 10th; just over half a season at Bologna, those two Serie A gigs either side of guiding Venezia up from the third tier to the second. But Benevento are restoring his reputation in a job he says he “loves”, and to which he brings an obvious, animated engagement on the touchline.
Simone Inzaghi, meanwhile, adopts a cooler posture, especially when asked where his club’s winning run might lead. Lazio trail champions and Serie A leaders, Juventus, by six points, though they have a match in hand. Inter, in second place, are two points ahead of Lazio but have also played one game more. By the end of today, with Inter hosting Cagliari, Juventus travelling to Napoli and the evening’s crackling all-Rome showdown, the title credentials of Lazio may be clearer.
What they do have is the means to beat Juventus. In December, Inzaghi oversaw two victories over the champions, both 3-1, one in the league in Rome, the other in the Italian Super Cup final in Riyadh, which added a third piece of silverware to the young manager’s collection, next to Lazio’s 2017 Supercup and the Coppa Italia they won last season. Around these landmark finals, a momentum has been nurtured carefully and patiently, the squad only subtly altered through the last four transfer windows.
The younger Inzaghi does not have fierce dogmas about possession-based football, tends to play with a back three and wing-backs, and, with only the sixth highest budget in the Italian top flight, has crafted a defence meaner than anybody but Inter’s and a forward line only less potent that the remarkable Atalanta’s. Its chief suppliers are Luis Alberto, formerly of Liverpool, the gifted Argentine Joaquin Correa and the admired Serbian, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The finisher, par excellence, is Ciro Immobile.
Immobile’s hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Sampdoria last weekend took his tally for the league season to 23 goals, in 19 matches, a breathtaking total for the much-travelled 29-year-old Italy international. Immobile is, says his manager, “among the best strikers in the world, and a real team player as well”. They have had their differences: Inzaghi left his totemic centre-forward out of the starting line-up at Inter in September, after Immobile had responded angrily to being substituted in the previous fixture. The Inter match was the last time Lazio lost in Serie A.
The league looks like a clear priority. Lazio fell out of the Europa League at the group stage, and last week their defence of the Coppa Italia ended at Napoli, a first loss against Italian opposition in 15 games. “We learn from evenings like that,” said the head coach, “and, out of 15 matches, you can lose one. The key is to regain our strength and energy for Roma.”
Updated: January 25, 2020 02:34 PM
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