Italian Serie A: Lazio Continues Case For Title Contention

For a few moments on Sunday, the Serie A table had returned to something vaguely recognizable. Milan's Saturday win against Chievo had launched them top, with fourteen points and a superior goals scored resting the Rossoneri atop holders Inter Milan. With Juventus, Palermo, and Sampdoria within three points, a sense of normalcy has come to a league where the likes of Chievo had enjoyed time on top.

Fast forward to Sunday evening and Lazio was back top. Second half goals from Hernanes and Sergio Floccari put away Bari, giving the Eagles their third consecutive win, 0-2 at the San Nicola. Eduardo Reja's men have not lost since an opening weekend trip to Sampdoria, which is also the last time they allowed more than one goal in a match. With a two point lead on the Milan clubs and a match Sunday at the Stadio Olimpico against Calgiari, Lazio look to stay top ahead of their Halloween trip to the Renzo Barbera to face Palermo.

Lazio then get their derby with Roma, their toughest match in a kind November. Cesena, home to Napoli, at Parma and then Catania in Rome - that's a relatively easy haul for the Biancocelesti. Even if they stumble, Lazio should be near the top when their fixtures finally turn to Inter and Juve, and if that prognosis seems too bright-eyed for a team that finished last season in 12th, there's a reason for it.

There's a chasm that's formed between this year's team an last's, one that forces us to correct and caveat that Lazio may be overachieving. One need only look to their midfield to see why. Brazilian import Hernanes has been the obvious difference, scoring a goal on Sunday while continuing his smooth transition from Sao Paulo. The central midfielder has been amongst the best players in this season's Serie A. There's also Cristian Ledesma, who missed so much of last season while being unfairly excluded from the team amidst a contract dispute. Perhaps their editions are responsible for Stefano Mauri's strong start to the season; regardless, the veteran attacker is on the verge of matching last year's goal total (three) within this season's first two months. With an in-form Cristano Brocchi rounding out the quartet and the likes of Mark Bresciano in reserve, the midfield provides ample evidence for anybody looking to trumpet Lazio's title credentials.

But in a league where nobody outside the big three has won since the Rome clubs won titles in 1999-2000 and 2000-01, Lazio's title credentials have to be considered the context of Juventus, Milan, and (most importantly) Internazionale. Although Lazio's September 22 draw with Milan could be seen as evidence of their bonafides, in the context of a title challenge, that's two home points dropped. When looking for other resumé points you see Lazio hass lost to Samp and has yet to play any of Inter, Juve, Napoli or Palermo. While their opening fixtures seem neither easy nor difficult when compared to their peers', a cynic can still doubt, especially when Juve's pouring in "goals for fun" while nobody can score on Inter.

And while that cynic may be unduly pessimistic, it's a testament to Lazio's strength that their title campaign is already being examined critically. This is not merely the case of a squad having a rich run of form to start a season. The form is rich, but there are reasons for that, and those reasons hint Lazio will persist in the race for the scudetto.

Elsewhere on the Apennine Peninsula:

  • Alexandre Pato's hitting his stride, having returned from a brief spell on the sidelines, recording a brace against Chievo in Milan's 3-1 win at the San Siro. Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic also had goals, though The Zlatan's was into the wrong net. Milan sits second.
  • Inter's Samuel Eto'o was the target of racist chants from Cagliari fans, forcing Sunday's match to halt before resuming under treat of suspension. The Cameroonian had his revenge shortly before half-time, scoring the match's only goal in Inter's 0-1 win. Milano, like Milan, has 14 points, having allowed only three goals through seven matches.
  • Paulo Cannavaro saw red late at Catania and will miss next Monday's visit from Milan. Catania's Alejandro Gómez's second half goal equalized Edinson Cavani's first half marker, ending Napoli's two match winning streak with a 1-1 draw.
  • Juve scored four for the third time this season, routing Lecce 4-0 to raise their league-leading goal total to 16. The Old Lady sits fifth.
  • Palmero's got ten points from their last four after a 4-1 win over Bologna. Despite a small talent drain over the summer, the Eagles have picked-up where last season left-off: on the edge of Champions League play. The pink-blacks sit sixth.
  • In Genoa, a 32-yard golazo from Sampdoria's Reto Ziegler's pulled back an early gaol form Fiorentina's Marco Marchionni. When Antonio Cassano scored a minute later, Sampdoria had their first win since the opening weekend. They sit seventh while Fiorentina drops to last.
  • Bernardo Corradi's late header gave Udinese a 0-1 win at Brescia; Genoa lost at Roma, 2-1, giving the Giallorossi their second win of the season; Erjon Bogdani and Cristian Zaccardo traded early goals in Parma's 1-1 draw at Cesena.
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