After just missing out on a place in the last 16 back in February, Lazio return to the Europa League on Thursday evening, when they play host to Group F rivals Feyenoord at Stadio Olimpico.
The Roman giants made a bright start to the new Serie A season before taking just a point from their last two games, while their visitors – beaten Conference League finalists last term – remain unbeaten in the Eredivisie.
In Maurizio Sarri’s first season in charge of Lazio, the Italian side made their record-equalling ninth appearance in the Europa League group stage, and went onto reach the knockout phase for a seventh time.
Indeed, the Aquile have played 78 times in Europe’s second-tier tournament since its inception in 2009 – second only to Villarreal – but they have yet to go all the way, following an exit to Porto in the playoff round of last season’s edition.
After suffering another defeat away from home in that tie’s first leg at Estadio do Dragao, Lazio have won just one of their last 13 games on the road in Europe, so will be glad to kick off their latest campaign in the familiar surrounds of the Eternal City.
Sarri’s side have drawn each of their last three home matches in the Europa League, but generally fare far better at the Olimpico than away from their Roman stronghold.
They lost just three times in the league there last season, and had beaten both Bologna and top-four rivals Inter in the Italian capital before hosting Sarri’s former club Napoli on Saturday.
Despite sealing a fifth-placed finish last term, Lazio were not the most reliable of teams, and the same inconsistencies reared their head in a 2-1 loss to Luciano Spalletti’s side, in which the home side squandered a lead secured by Mattia Zaccagni’s early strike.
While Lazio sit ninth in the early Serie A standings, their opponents – who they last met during the second group stage of the 1999-2000 Champions League – are in flying form; occupying second spot in the Eredivisie.
A goalless draw with Heerenveen aside, Feyenoord have won each of their fixtures by an aggregate scoreline of 14-5, following last weekend’s 4-3 win away to Go Ahead Eagles, in which they fought back from going two goals down with only 13 minutes played.
All of which is made more impressive by the necessity for coach Arne Slot to rebuild his side after their impressive run to the inaugural Europa Conference League final, which they ultimately lost to Lazio’s arch-rivals Roma.
Slot has seen his squad decimated by big-spending English clubs over the summer, as Tyrell Malacia, Marcos Senesi and Luis Sinisterra all joined Arsenal loanee Reiss Nelson in departing for the Premier League. Star striker Cyriel Dessers upped sticks for Serie A, too.
Those who remain have accrued invaluable experience, though, as Feyenoord played 19 games in the Conference League last season – winning twelve times and losing just twice; the latter loss coming at the final hurdle, in Tirana.
Lazio form (all competitions):
Feyenoord form (all competitions):
We say: Lazio 2-1 Feyenoord
Two teams prioritising progressive football should put on a lively show at the Olimpico, and goals could come at both ends in an open encounter between the group favourites. Only Lazio’s greater individual quality will swing the result in their favour.