Less than a week until the Serie A season starts, and SB Nation is on to the top five clubs of last season. Previewing Lazio is Rocco Cammisola, who manages to hide his fandom quite well on his Twitter account. Rocco can be found writing about Italian and English football on various sites, including his own, The Football Express.
The 2010-11 season of great joy for Lazio fans. Lazio soared to the top of the table early in the season and remained there for the first few months of the campaign. Their grip on top spot was not tight enough, though, and they eventually slipped down to fifth, losing out on the Champions League. This could be regarded as a relative failure given their quick fire start, but after flirting dangerously with relegation the season before fans should be glad to have European football back in their calendar.
The signing of Hernanes was certainly a pivotal moment in the transfer campaign, but Edy Reja's side were built on some solid foundations. Cristian Ledesma, Andre Dias, Stephen Lichtsteiner and Stefano Mauri - six goals and nine assists - all proved they were worth their match fee. Edy Reja, too, isn't resting on his laurels and has refused to sign anything more than a one year contract extension. Here goes then.
As well as the usual exodus of youth players on loan to sides further down the Italian league pyramid, a few bigger names have left Formello in the summer. Mark Bresciano has left for the riches of the UAE Pro League, joining Al Nasr, after seeing his playing possibilities diminish and his age increase. Juventus have sought to plug the huge gaps in their squad at full back by purchasing Lazio's Swiss right back, Stephen Lichtsteiner for a reported €10 million. The most controversial exit of the summer so far has been the young goalkeeper, Fernando Muslera, who refused to sign a contract extension was sold to Galatasaray in Turkey - seen as a strange move for a man who has just won a Copa America with his National side.
The transfer window has been described as "the first time in Lotito's tenure in which Lazio fans are actually able to get excited about their transfer window". The club have brought in a number of players to add depth. Bosnian left back, Senad Lulic, from Young Boys and Lorik Cana made use of Fernando Muslera's return flight, joining from Galatasaray, will add intelligent steel to the Lazio central midfield. Abdoualay Konko joins from Genoa, a replacement for Lichtsteiner, as well as bullied and exiled goalkeeper Federico Marchetti who will replace Muslera between the sticks.
All of these have been able replacements, or added depth to the squad but the real show piece signings have come up front. Lotito has raided the war chest and signed Ex-Liverpool and Marseille striker Djibril Cisse - who has been scoring goals for fun in Greece. The marquee signing of the window, though, has to be German international marksman Miroslav Klose. Klose joins on a free transfer from Bayern Munich and will be paid approximately €3 million a season, making him the highest paid player at the club. Hopefully he can translate his form for the national team to his new club.
What to expect from 2011-12
Fighting on two fronts will present a new challenge for Reja and the squad. There are certainly enough bodies there but it remains to be seen whether they possess the quality to battle for top honours among other sides who are engaging in some exciting transitional periods. Qualification from the Europa League group stage and a top six finish should be an acceptable lower limit for the side, anything more should be seen as a bonus.
Potential breakout star
Tomasso Ceccarelli was included in the match day squad for the Europa League playoff, but it remains to be seen how much hope Reja will be pinning on the exuberant youngster this season. He shone on multiple occasions for the primavera side last season and could be a very useful addition for use in wide forward areas of the pitch - something the squad currently lacks.
Alvaro Gonzalez isn't a new face to Lazio fans, but his debut season was a tentative one. The dazzling limelight of Hernanes allowed him to take his time to settle in to life in Rome, but at the Copa America he showed what a marvelous player he can be. While he may not be as gifted technically as Hernanes, he has the lungs to make up for it. Gonzalez will be looking to make his mark, positively, on the Lazio side this season.
Djibril Cisse will be relishing the opportunity to have another go to impress in one of Europe's top five leagues. He hasn't had the best of luck over the years - two broken legs - but he will know that at 29 years of age this is his last chance. Lazio were light on goals up front last season, which is what saw them eventually topple down the table. Cisse will be one of the main protagonists in turning this around.
Hernanes had a wonderful season, greasing the wheels in the Lazio midfield. From his trequartista position he was able to provide beautiful passes for Zarate, Floccari and Mauri to bury. There has been no concerted effort to find a deputy for the Brazilian, so it is paramount that he keeps turning up this season. Great things are expected from the prophet, but he'll know that already.
All the talk in pre-season has been very optimistically predicting a charge toward the Champions League places this season, but battling on two fronts (League and Europe), the reduction in available spots from four to three and the raft of positive changes elsewhere means that expectations need to be managed and predictions readjusted. A successive fifth place finish should be seen as a success - despite the idle chatter.