Injured Stefan de Vrij has been a big miss for Lazio this season and their inconsistencies show no sign of abating during his prolonged lay-off.
Lazio’s 2-1 reverse away to Sassuolo last weekend again exposed their weaknesses and frustrating inability to extract at least a point from a fixture in which they were expected to excel.
Midfielder Senad Lulic stuck out a leg to bring down Neroverdi defender Paolo Cannavaro in the area to give away an early penalty converted by Domenico Berardi before slack marking allowed the hosts to make it two through unmarked Simone Missiroli.
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A run of four successive wins in all competitions had brought about something of a resurgence from the Aquile after a very disappointing start, which saw them drop out at the Champions League play-off stage and succumb to domestic drubbings at Chievo and Napoli.
Observers could be forgiven for thinking the dark days were over for the capital club due to that sudden upsurge in form, but defeat to Sassuolo again put their troubles into sharp focus.
Dutchman De Vrij was integral to Lazio’s run to third spot in Serie A last season while he played a key role in their goals against record of one-per-game, only bettered by the teams above them, Juventus and Roma.
He made 30 league appearances in total last term following a switch from Feyenoord, which was largely prompted by several fantastic performances for the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Strong in the tackle, imperious in the air and outstanding positionally, the 23-year-old proved his mettle at the highest level.
A knee injury suffered on international duty over a month ago has since ended his significant contribution, and now it appears he will undergo surgery on the problem, ruling him out for a further three months.
LACK OF OPTIONS
Injuries to first-teamers Marco Parolo, Lucas Biglia and Filip Djordjevic have all been keenly felt, but the loss of De Vrij has arguably hit hardest of all.
In his absence, the Biancocelesti have relied heavily upon centre-backs Santiago Gentiletti and Mauricio, neither of whom have convinced.
Even at his relatively tender age, De Vrij displayed great leadership at the heart of the defence last season, which is an attribute sorely missing without him.
This has partly led to the allowance of 13 goals in eight games – only AC Milan, Empoli and Carpi possess a worse record.
Admittedly, the young Netherlands star was in the side which shipped four at Chievo, but his performance that evening suggested he wasn’t operating at full throttle, and so it proved, having failed to feature for his club since.
The defensive players currently in the side must shape up quickly in order to weather the storm throughout the next three months or so, by which time the Dutch international should be finally ready to return.
Otherwise, any dreams Lazio hold of repeating last term’s achievements will have disappeared into dust when De Vrij eventually hits the comeback trail.