Derby defeat not enough to take shine off Lazio’s fine start to Serie A

Lazio have made a record breaking start to the Serie A standings and sit top of the league, two points clear of Milan despite a defeat on Sunday to fierce rivals AS Roma. But can the Biancoceleste keep up their excellent start to the campaign?

Just when you thought you no longer needed to check the Serie A table, given Inter’s near permanent occupation of the top spot in the Italian top flight over the last gazillion years (ok – five years), along came Edoardo Reja and his Lazio side. The last time the side from the capital won the league title was of course when everyone’s favourite Swede was in charge (Sven of course, not the root vegetable).

The club haven’t even been put off by the tricks of their mascot, Olimpia, an eagle which traditionally circles the Stadio Olimpico three times before landing on the playing surface. Olimpia recently decided to do just the one circuit of the stadium, but Lazio nevertheless defeated Cagliari to take a record 19 points from eight games.

However, that was two weeks ago, and since then they have defeated Palermo before being defeated this weekend by fierce local rivals Roma. Reja’s men still sit two points clear of AC Milan though. The previous weekend Lazio had been four points clear, the largest lead by any side at the top of Serie A at that stage of the season since the Calciopolli scandal of 2006. So how have a team in recent years beset by financial difficulties and more accustomed to fighting relegation than looking out for the results of Internazionale risen back to the top of the pile?

A major factor is the fact that Reja has made few changes to last year’s side, favouring consistency over wholesale changes. With 10 of the first team there since last season, there have been few changes, and that has made it easier to get off to a fast start in Serie A.

Always helpful as well is a strong defence, and Lazio’s is marshalled by Uruguay’s ‘other’ goalkeeping hero from the World Cup win over Ghana, Fernando Muslera. Having joined at the age of 21, Muslera made an horrific start to his career at the club, but has since come back impressively and has given confidence to a strong defence this campaign, featuring the talents of Andre Dias and Guiseppe Biava.

But at the other end, Lazio have some equally impressive talents. Stefano Mauri has rediscovered the promise of the start of his career, whilst Hernanes has been one of the buys of the season in Serie A. Brilliant with both feet, Hernanes is the complete midfielder – able to mark as well to as to create, pass and score, and has been compared with Kaka by some.

And for once, it looks like there may be a vacancy for a new champion in Serie A. Inter Milan may have been treble winners and record breakers last year, but Rafa Benitez has somehow made them ‘vincible’ again. AC Milan are still not the force they once were, and the likes of Robinho and Ronaldinho aren’t exactly the most willing to track back and work for the team. Given the age of the squad, there will be question marks over their ability to last the distance, whilst Juventus similarly are a giant with the wounds of the Calcipolli scandal still not entirely healed.

Defeat to Roma this weekend will have been hard to take. But they can take solace from one promising statistic. Three times they have played Roma whilst on top of the standings. Two of those times they have won the league – their only league successes. With a team winning even with Olimpia playing tricks on the Lazio faithful, the Biancocelesti will be dreaming of a third league title.