As the pack for a top 4 finish begins to thin out, Sunday afternoon’s clash between 5th-placed Lazio and 6th-placed Sampdoria geared up to be a critical inflection point for those on the periphery. Sampdoria, fresh off a frustrating 3-0 road defeat to Bologna, returned to their Marassi fortress in hopes of widening the gap between themselves and 7th-placed Fiorentina.
The visitors were winless in their last four in all comps, suffering a disappointing result of their own last week at home when Fiorentina’s Khouma Babacar converted from the spot in injury time to split the points one apiece. Despite their immediate forms heading into the match, Sampdoria boasted a perfect home record, conceding only 5 and scoring 19 in 7 matches, while Lazio countered with a formidable away record, finding the net 20 times and losing only once in the same span.
All eyes were on two players: Sampdoria’s diminutive midfield bulldog, Lucas Torreira, and Lazio’s midfield colossus, Sergej Milinković-Savić. Aged 21 and 22, respectively, these are two of the Serie A’s most prized possessions.
Torreira, a 5’6” Uruguayan native, can be found winning possession back all over the pitch, facilitating transitional play, or hammering the ball on net from distance. A combination of Marco Verratti and Radja Nainggolan, in size, quality, and assets, Lucas Torreira has taken Italy’s top flight by storm this year and has been I Blucerchiati’s most outstanding player.
With the frame of an NFL tight end and the grace of a ballerina, Sergej Milinković-Savić is a complicated figure. Lazio’s kingpin midfielder stands at 6’4”, a towering figure in the center of the park. The Spanish-born Serbian national combines unmatched physical strength with superb technical ability and tactical intelligence to win aerial and ground duels, carry and distribute the ball, and offer a passing option in transition and in the attack.
Though they may differ strikingly in stature, the contributions of these two young guns to their respective sides are immeasurable, thus Marco Giampaolo and Simone Inzaghi will be desperate to hold onto them when the likes of Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid, Arsenal, and Liverpool come knocking on the door next summer.
The first 45 minutes of the match was full of energy and intensity, and while each side created several goalscoring chances, neither possessed a finishing touch. For Sampdoria, Gastón Ramírez operated as a trequartista in Marco Giampaolo’s 4-3-1-2, and served as the glue to link the midfield with the attack. Ahead of him, a striker partnership between Fabio Quagliarella and Dúvan Zapata, a pair far greater than the sum of their parts that would go on to combine delightfully to put Il Samp ahead early in the second half.
Lacking wingers Nani and Felipe Anderson, both sidelined by injury, Simone Inzaghi deployed a 3-5-1-1, deputizing wingbacks Senad Lulić and Adam Marušić to advance upfield to join the attack and provide necessary width.
Soon after the match recommenced, Marco Parolo gave the home crowd a scare when his effort rattled the post, smothered by Viviano instantly after. Minutes later, Lucas Torreira’s lofted ball found Quagliarella in the box, who nodded it to Zapata in front of the net where the Colombian calmly finished the sequence it in to give his side the advantage.
Milinković-Savić put in one of his best shifts of the season, constantly winning duels and making tackles, displaying his superb vision in his long passes to release Ciro Immobile and Luis Alberto in transition. His inner Spaniard manifested in brilliant bits of skill to shake off a man…or two…or even three on one jaw-dropping occasion.
Pressure mounted as Il Biancocelesti began to dominate the late stages of the game, retaining most of the possession and taking shots inside the box. Marco Parolo connected with Luis Alberto’s whipped-in set piece delivery, and after pinballing off of backs and legs, Milinković-Savić pounced on the loose ball and rifled it into the the back of the net with an outstretched right leg.
Just when it looked like each side had settled for a deserved draw, the Serbian midfield general won the ball in the middle of the park, shaking off Lucas Torreira’s challenge with ease as he slalomed into the box, rounding off his exquisite run with a with a clever through-ball to penetrate the Sampdoria defense which Immobile and Viviano bungled, but Felipe Caicedo was there to slot it in to steal all three points.
Sunday’s victory ensured Lazio’s hold on fifth place, just two points behind crosstown rivals Roma, and widened the gap with sixth-placed Sampdoria to six points. Although this match did not attract the hype of Friday’s clash between Napoli vs Juventus, nor did a goalkeeper equalize from diving header in added time like in Benevento vs Milan, but it did offer something special.
It treated us to two young midfield aces squaring off, to see who could pull the strings to orchestrate a goal for their team, or who could grab the game by the scruff of its neck and deliver in a moment of individual brilliance. I hope to see just that when they meet once more in late April in Italy’s capital.