Lazio clearly hadn’t read the script in Wednesday evening’s Coppa Italia final. Almost everyone who has followed Italian football this season expected Atalanta to be the ones to lift the trophy at the end of the match, however the Bergamo-based side with the ultra-attacking philosophy were stopped in their tracks as Lazio stormed to a 2-0 win.
Just 10 days earlier, Atalanta had fought back from 1-0 down to the Biancocelesti in that same stadium to register an emphatic 3-1 victory. That first result only served to reinforce the opinion that Gian Piero Gasperini’s bright and positive side would emerge victorious again, but how wrong we were.
In truth, they were a little unlucky not to receive a penalty when Bastos was shown to have handled Marten De Roon’s shot, and Papu Gomez clipped the post with his shot shortly afterwards. In a “sliding doors” moment, they could’ve been 2-0 up and cruising in the first half, but that must not take away from Lazio’s performance.
Coach Simone Inzaghi used those 10 days wisely in that he figured out a way to negate Atalanta’s style of pressing forward in numbers. A huge amount of credit must go to both the tactician and his players as they pulled off what so many others, including Juventus, have failed to do this term.
A look at stats from the two matches reveals that Atalanta surprisingly had less possession (45%) during their recent league victory, while they had the ball 53 percent of the time in Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat. By sitting deeper and allowing their opponents more of the play, Lazio turned the tables on Gasperini’s usual game of winning the ball back and playing on the counter-attack.
This was a genius move from Inzaghi, as his side were then able to play on the break themselves, with two of their shots on goal coming on from a counter-attack, as opposed to none in the league encounter on May 5.
Substitutions also played a part, as the coach brought on star player Sergej Milinkovic-Savic — who was rumored to be out of the match completely through injury — in the 79th minute, and then watched on as the Serbian opened the scoring from a set-piece just three minutes after his introduction.
“We had a great game, but also congratulations to Atalanta, as it was hard-fought, the same way it was in Serie A,” Inzaghi told reporters from RAI Sport after the match. “Only this time we did well to turn the incidents our way.”
The boss then echoed his pre-match comments about the importance of the substitutes. “I told the lads that at times those who come off the bench are more important than the starting XI. I am satisfied, as we had a wonderful run in this Coppa Italia,” he concluded.
It was indeed a hard-fought match by runners-up Atalanta, who deserve huge credit for beating Juventus and coming through a high-scoring two-legged semifinal with Fiorentina to reach the final showdown in Rome. President Antonio Percassi and his son were moved to tears before kickoff by the 21,000 fans who had travelled from Bergamo to support their team, and once the disappointment has worn off they should feel an immense sense of pride for what has been achieved.
“We accept the defeat, Lazio are a very good team, it was a balanced game, but no this incident is absolutely unacceptable,” Gasperini told RAI after being shown a reply of the aforementioned incident with Bastos. “I wasn’t angry before I saw that replay, as from the bench I absolutely didn’t see that. My players told me there was a hand, but I thought it was one of those handballs that saw some absurd penalties given during the season, but this was far worse. It’s very clear.
“Maybe we wouldn’t have won anyway, but it’s really ugly to see this. It’s ugly. This was a very balanced game decided late on and a penalty, not to mention Bastos was already on a yellow card before that. It changes the game.”
In some ways, the coach is correct, but in general terms Lazio won this game fair and square by turning Atalanta’s usual tactics upside down. When the dust settles, the team must sit down and analyze what went wrong, as surely more teams will now attempt this very same approach.
The capital club may not be as popular with the neutral, but Simone Inzaghi and Lazio were worthy winners of the 2018-19 Coppa Italia.