Preview: Empoli vs. Lazio

Preview: Empoli vs. Lazio

Aiming to sew up second place in the Serie A standings, Lazio play their final fixture of the 2022-23 season on Saturday, when they meet Empoli at Stadio Carlo Castellani.

While the capital club are 90 minutes from finishing as ‘best of the rest’ behind Scudetto-winners Napoli, their 14th-placed hosts have already assured a third straight season of top-flight football by winning three of their last five matches.

Almost embarrassed in their final home game of an impressive campaign, Lazio required a late winner from midfield maestro Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to see off relegated Cremonese at Stadio Olimpico last week; victory on Saturday would therefore secure second spot.

Some have interpreted the Serbian’s double strike as something of a send-off after several successful years at the Biancocelesti’s service, but he must at least commit one final performance to the cause in Empoli, where Lazio have won on each of their last three visits.

Having won just one of five games prior to beating Udinese and Cremonese to round off May, Maurizio Sarri may have worried that his side’s season was petering out, but they now boast a 10-point cushion to fifth-placed Atalanta; ensuring they will play Champions League football for the first time since 2020.

Lazio have now earned 71 points to move clear of outgoing champions Milan, city rivals Roma and Champions League finalists Inter, and with a win this weekend they would also record their second-best tally in a top-flight campaign.

In addition to a long series of clean sheets, Sarri’s men have notably won 34 of those points on the road – again, the club’s second-best performance in a single Serie A season.

Ciro Immobile’s injury-hit year may have reduced his customary goal total, but Milinkovic-Savic (nine), Felipe Anderson (nine) and Mattia Zaccagni (10) have all contributed to make up the deficit, as ‘Sarrisimo’ truly takes hold in Rome.

Without a win in their last eight league meetings with Lazio – losing six in a row before drawing the most recent two – Empoli will want to end that streak in Saturday’s season finale in front of their own fans.

Last time out at their Tuscan headquarters, the Azzurri crushed a downtrodden Juventus – who had just received news of a fresh 10-point penalty before kickoff – and now they seek a similar result against another giant of Calcio.

In all, Empoli have won three of their last five fixtures without suffering defeat, and following a troubling run after the World Cup they have since rallied to ensure safety with weeks to spare.

A 1-1 draw at relegation-threatened Hellas Verona last week – secured only by a stoppage-time own goal which dashed their hosts’ dreams of victory – topped their total up to 43 points, and beating Lazio would see Paolo Zanetti’s side tie the club’s second-best haul in their Serie A history.

That could also help them finish as high as 13th, should Sassuolo stumble at home to Fiorentina, which would represent a job well done in Zanetti’s first year as Empoli coach. Having won each of their last three home matches, the Castellani crowd will be anticipating a grandstand finish this weekend.

Empoli Serie A form:

Lazio Serie A form:

We say: Empoli 1-2 Lazio
Lazio have only lost four times on the road this term, so there is every chance of the Aquile soaring to victory in Empoli – which is no mean feat, given the hosts’ recent results there: Sarri’s side can score from several sources and also boast the second-best defensive record in Serie A.

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