Miroslav Klose is injured and Hernanes is wrapped in cotton wool (almost literally - following head trauma) Who can lead Lazio to victory over Napoli? Libor Kozak? Louis Saha? No. Lazio need Mauro Zarate!
Temperamental, egotistical and frozen-out he may be, but it's time for Zarate to be brought in from the cold. Just two seasons ago, Zarate was the crown jewel of the Lazio attack. In the two league games against Napoli he was arguably the team's star performer. The Argentine scored one and made the other in a 2-0 victory at the Stadio Olimpico. Despite going down 4-3 at the San Paolo, Zarate was again the architect of two of Lazio's goals.
Zarate's problems at the club have been well documented. A public falling out with previous boss Edy Reja led to an unspectacular loan spell at Inter Milan last season.
Upon his return and under Vladimir Petkovic, Maurito hasn't had much game time so far this season. Fleeting Europa League appearances and a solitary league start (the 1-0 loss at home to Genoa) haven't given him much of a chance to shine.
A refusal to go on the bench in a game against Inter Milan before Christmas seemed to be the final straw. However, the much anticipated split didn't happen in January, even after "going to war" with President Claudio Lotito over an inflated asking price. Zarate was linked with half of the Premier League and was reported to have put pen to paper on a deal to join Dynamo Kiev, yet nothing has materialised and he remains Laziali.
Zarate tweeted from Formello this week that he was training with (fellow outcasts) Modibo Diakite, Marius Stankevicius and Pasquale Foggia. The situation isn't too dissimilar from three seasons ago when Lorenzo De Silvestri, Goran Pandev and Cristian Ledesma were all frozen out for demanding to leave. Of course, De Silvestri and Pandev got their wish, but the third 'dissident' Ledesma failed with a bid to rescind his contract and ended up staying. He even signed a new contract a short time later. Not many Lazio tifosi thought there was a way back for the midfielder, but look at him now. Zarate has stated he has no problem with Petkovic, just Lotito and wouldn't be opposed to staying at the club.
Thus far, Petkovic has relied on a system that caters to one forward, namely Klose. Now that the German is out of action, the tactician has an important decision to make. The side have clearly struggled in games against Palermo, Chievo Verona and Genoa without their veteran marksman, looking hesitant and devoid of attacking quality at times. Even Antonio Candreva has been sacrificed for the more defensive mined Senad Lulic out wide. Kozak has failed to impress and the signing of 34-year-old injury-prone Saha looks like a desperation tactic to cover-up for a disappointing mercato period throughout January.
Re-integrating Zarate would give Sergio Floccari a familiar and much needed partner up front. Playing with two forwards carried the club through the Europa League and it will re-ignite a stuttering league campaign, not to mention add some much needed sizzle to the Lazio attack. It's win-win for Petkovic and even Lotito. If Zarate is successful, the move will be heralded as a tactical masterstroke, and if it fails then Zarate will have had chance to put himself in the shop window and Lotito will be justified in his decision to sell the popular forward.
Saturday night's game with Napoli marks a crucial turning point in Lazio's season. Simply put, it's win or bust for the Biancocelesti. They are clinging to the final Champions League place by three points with both Milan clubs in pursuit. It's worth noting that Lazio also have two trips to the San Siro to negotiate before the end of the season. Mauro Zarate can be the difference maker, if given a chance. The question remains, is Petkovic willing to take that much of a gamble?