Thursday, April 25, 2024

Lazio 1-0 Bayern Munich: Talking points as Biancocelesti take first-leg advantage at Olimpico

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Lazio rather unexpectedly beat Bayern Munich in the first leg of their encounter in the Champions League round of 16 at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday, and will have a minimal advantage to take to the rematch at the Allianz Arena on March 5th. The only goal of the game was a penalty converted by Ciro Immobile in the 69th minute, after Dayot Upamecano committed a foul on Gustav Isaksen that resulted in a straight red card for the Bayern defender as well.

The game

Bayern were considered as the favourites to win this game, with their superior quality and track record at this stage of the Champions League. Therefore, it’s not surprising that they dominated most of the contest, ending up with 61% of possession and a total of 17 shots, while Lazio had 11. However, not one of those 17 shots went on target, giving Lazio goalkeeper Ivan Provedel no saves to make at all.

Harry Kane has clearly been one of the standout performers this season for Bayern, but the England captain didn’t have a great day at the office on Wednesday. He had several fine opportunities to get his team ahead before Immobile’s opener, but the ball just wouldn’t go where he wanted it to. Jamal Musiala, Thomas Muller and Leroy Sane, who spread across the width of the pitch to support Kane, were frequently stopped in their tracks by the Lazio defence, highlighting the struggles the Bavarians have been going through in recent matches that have allowed Bayer Leverkusen to increase their lead at the top of the Bundesliga to five points, as it stands at the moment.

The industriousness of Matteo Guendouzi, not to mention the creativity and playmaking skills of Luis Alberto, caused plenty of problems for Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka in the middle of the park, but all in all, it was probably Lazio’s motivation, the support of the home fans, and the sheer desire to make this season count for something, that brought about this victory.

It remains to be seen how far Maurizio Sarri’s team can go in the competition. They will be aware that their one-goal advantage will be tested hard at the Allianz Arena; the tie is obviously far from settled. Meanwhile, they sit in seventh place in the Serie A standings right now, and it also remains to be seen if they’ll be able to bridge the five-point gap that separates them from the top four.

Sarri’s men managed to hit the target four times, and it should be said that Guendouzi and Isakson should’ve kept their heads more clear on a couple of occasions. Despite the smaller possession percentage, their advantage could’ve been bigger, though again, the same can be said of the Bayern attackers.

The penalty incident

There can be very little doubt about referee Francois Letexier from France making the right call when he awarded the Lazio penalty and sent Upamecano straight off. For himself, there didn’t seem to be any doubt about it at all, and no call to review the incident came from the VAR room.

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It started with Musiala losing the ball in the Lazio half and Felipe Anderson pulling a quick counter attack through the middle. He had options on both sides as Immobile pulled out to the left and Isakson came in from the right, and he chose Immobile. The veteran striker showed great dribbling skill as he danced with the ball completely surrounded by the Bayern defence, but failed to get off a shot and the ball eventually got away from him. But fortunately for Lazio, it came to Isaksen to tried to shoot first time, and Upamecano reacted very late, putting his studs through the ankle of the Lazio winger. The tackle could’ve easily resulted in Isakson getting seriously injured, it was completely reckless, leaving no doubt in Letexier’s mind about his decision.

On his day, Upamecano can be a top-quality defender, but there are frequent lapses in his concentration which cause him to make serious mistakes, a trait that he’s been carrying even in his days with RB Leipzig.

No place for racism

However, the reaction of a section of the Bayern supporters towards their defender on social media was truly unacceptable. Upamecano suffered severe racist abuse for his mistake, and the Bundesliga champions quickly stepped up with an official statement to condemn such mindless outbursts, offering support to their player.

Racism in football, particularly on social media, though in stadium stands too, is unfortunately nothing new. A horde of irresponsible individuals apparently get their kicks by insulting anyone in any way they can think of, and the color of one’s skin seems to be the first thing that comes to their sorry minds when a mistake is made.

And now, instead of focusing on the mistake on the pitch and working on keeping his concentration up during matches, Upamecano has to deal with racial insults and threats. Let’s hope such behaviour is clamped down on, very hard, very soon.

Tuchel under pressure

There has obviously been much speculation about Thomas Tuchel potentially facing the sack as the Bayern head coach. The man who led Chelsea against the odds to the Champions League trophy in 2021, a year after leading Paris Saint-Germain to the final, doesn’t seem capable of finding the solution to Bayern’s problems at the moment.

Perhaps the 50-year-old tactician should be given more time to find it, but it would surely be a hugely unsuccessful season for a club like Bayern to end up with no silverware. They’re already out of the DFB-Pokal and things aren’t looking too good in the Bundesliga either. Exiting the Champions League at the round of 16 might just cost Tuchel his job, and he will do well to find the right way to inspire a comeback at the Allianz Arena.

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Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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