Serie A preview: Lazio hope to continue fine start
Little more than a decade since they won the Italian league in successive years, Serie A's two Roman clubs are making some early season noise again.
Roma beat Inter Milan 3-1 at the San Siro in its last outing for perhaps the most impressive result of the season thus far, while Lazio has won its first four matches in all competitions and is tied with defending champion Juventus and Napoli for the league lead through two rounds.
Outspoken Czech coach Zdenek Zeman is back managing Roma 13 years after his first stint with the club and he's still launching verbal attacks at the country's football establishment.
Meanwhile, Bosnian coach Vladimir Petkovic has shaken up a Lazio squad that mostly remained intact from last season's fourth-place finish.
Roma, who have four points, host Bologna this weekend, while Lazio visit Chievo Verona.
Lazio won Serie A in 2000 and Roma took the title the next year. Since then, the only champions have been Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.
Under American ownership for the second season, Roma has put together an interesting blend of young and old players. In attack, for example, new Italy internationals Pablo Osvaldo and Mattia Destro line up alongside 35-year-old captain Francesco Totti.
The Argentine-born Osvaldo scored in each of Roma's opening two matches then had both goals in Italy's 2-2 draw at Bulgaria last week. The 21-year-old Destro got his first international goal in Italy's 2-0 win over Malta on Tuesday.
With "future captain" Daniele De Rossi still at the heart of the midfield following a summer of transfer talk, the discussion now has turned to whether Roma can challenge for the title.
"It's too early to say that but we certainly want to compete and give ourselves a chance," Zeman said. "We want to disturb everyone on the pitch."
The 65-year-old Zeman has also been adept at disturbing opponents off the pitch over the course of his long career. It was his accusations in 1998 that led to a Turin court prosecutor to begin a doping investigation into Juventus. He has also been critical of how coach Antonio Conte continues to train Juventus this season while serving a 10-month pitch ban for violations stemming from when he coached Siena two seasons ago.
Zeman's latest biting criticism was reserved for Italian football federation president Giancarlo Abete, whose tenure has been marked by crumbling stadiums, fan violence, waning attendance and a major betting scandal.
Asked by the Corriere della Sera magazine Sette whether he would go to dinner with Abete, Zeman replied, "Why not? Abete isn't my enemy. He's football's enemy."
The Sette interview will be published on Friday, but segments were made public on Wednesday, and Roma immediately issued a clarification, which said Zeman's comments were not directed at Abete individually, "but rather the entire system of football, which hasn't taken advantage of opportunities for reform over the last few years."
The bigger worry for Roma now, though, is Bologna, with De Rossi out due to a right leg muscle injury and Totti having hurt his right ankle in training on Thursday.
Lazio beat Slovenian side Mura on 5-1 aggregate to qualify for the Europa League, then defeated Atalanta and Palermo.
"We want to dominate all the matches," said Germany striker Miroslav Klose, who scored twice against Palermo. "A lot of things have changed compared to last year, like the coach and the way we play. We have fun with Petkovic and we're playing well."
However, Juventus is also playing well and after finishing last season unbeaten they have gone 41 Serie A matches without a loss.
After visiting Genoa on Sunday, Juventus visit European champion Chelsea three days later, and will also face Roma this month.
As for Napoli, which has outscored opponents 5-1 thus far, the southern club is looking forward to playing on a completely redone pitch against Parma this weekend, having beaten Fiorentina two weeks ago on something resembling a sandpit.
AC Milan host Atalanta on Saturday amid talk of bickering between club vice president Adriano Galliani and manager Massimiliano Allegri, while Inter welcomes goalkeeper Samir Handanovic back at Torino on Sunday.
Also this weekend, it's: Palermo vs. Cagliari; Fiorentina vs. Catania; Pescara vs. Sampdoria; and Siena vs. Udinese.
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