Lazio have endured a terrible campaign to date following the assorted heroics of 2014-15, thus suggesting beleaguered coach Stefano Pioli is on borrowed time.
The flags were out in May when Lazio clinched third spot in Serie A, and with it came a potential route into the Champions League via a play-off qualifier.
A stunning second half of last season saw the Aquile embark upon an unstoppable ascent up the league standings, while they also reached the Coppa Italia final.
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Stefano Pioli was marked out as a coaching star of the future after extracting the very best out of a relatively small squad, all of whom contributed massively to an unexpectedly wonderful year.
Unfortunately for Pioli, the wheels have come off now with his club residing in a lowly 12th place, and his position appears increasingly tenuous.
EARLY SIGNS OF STRUGGLE
Bayer Leverkusen knocked Lazio out at the Champions League play-off stage in order to send the Biancocelesti crashing into the Europa League.
Pioli’s men were disjointed during a 3-0 loss in Germany, despite having taken a 1-0 lead into that second leg, which instantly killed off their hopes of success in the continent’s premier competition.
An inconsistent start in Serie A also piled on the pressure, even though Lazio managed a healthy six wins from the opening nine league fixtures.
It was the manner in which they suffered their three away defeats within that period which caused most consternation.
Chievo hit four goals in August and Napoli trumped that with five in September, both without reply from the fragile visitors.
Lazio were ludicrously porous at the back throughout each harrowing outing, while the subsequent 2-1 defeat at Sassuolo lacked fight and heart.
There were underlying problems that hadn’t yet reached their peak during those opening rounds of the campaign, but that burgeoning situation was just about to blow up in their faces.
Seven sorry games without a win followed, including losses to lesser lights Empoli and Atalanta, plus a painful reverse at the hands of bitter rivals Roma.
Coaching heavyweight Marcello Lippi has been repeatedly mentioned as a possible replacement, especially after he was spotted in the stands at the early December home clash with reigning champions Juventus.
Injuries to key squad members have played a part in their downward spiral; star defender Stefan de Vrij has featured just twice in league action due to a knee injury that has since been operated upon. Skilful captain Lucas Biglia also missed around six weeks due to calf and hamstring issues.
Lazio’s first-teamers have been forced into a training retreat – or ritiro – more than once to no avail, while gossip over a dressing-room revolt has reached fever pitch.
The 50-year-old tactician denied any knowledge of such a mutiny, but knows he must effect a swift turnaround in fortunes, with some media reports suggesting he has just two games left to save his job.
It seems unlikely from the outside that the majority of his team would be in conflict with him, as many shared happy times under his tenure last term.
Forgotten Englishman Ravel Morrison could be picked out as one person with an axe to grind against the former Parma and Bologna boss due to his lack of involvement, prompting him to apparently storm off back to his homeland at the end of November on an unauthorised trip.
Additionally, last year’s star performer Felipe Anderson has been in and out of the starting line-up, with seven of his 16 appearances coming from the bench, which may have given rise to a measure of resentment.
However, it would appear Pioli still has the bulk of his players on-side, and simply must procure a couple of wins imminently in order to inject some badly-needed confidence throughout the entire side.
As without those vital domestic victories, it may turn out that Pioli becomes only a footnote on the long list of football’s one-season wonders.
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