Top-flight action returns to Rome’s iconic Stadio Olimpico on Sunday evening, as Lazio host Bologna in their first Serie A fixture of the season.
While the Biancocelesti finished fifth last term, having radically overhauled their style, their visitors had to settle for mid-table mediocrity once again.
After a mostly positive first season in Rome – which ended in qualification for the Europa League – Lazio coach Maurizio Sarri will now target the top four in 2022-23.
As he continues to embed his notorious ‘Sarri-ball’ style at the Roman club, inspirational captain Ciro Immobile and creative colossus Sergej Milinkovic-Savic remain in the Eternal City, and a busy transfer window could set them up for success this season.
Much-needed defensive reinforcements include centre-backs Nicolo Casale (from Verona) and Alessio Romagnoli – an ex-Roma man, who arrives from Milan – plus Portuguese goalkeeper Luis Maximiano.
Meanwhile, Pepe Reina, Lucas Leiva, Luiz Felipe and misfit striker Vedat Muriqi are among those to have left this summer, during which Lazio won their first trio of friendlies against modest opposition but have failed to win in three attempts since.
The Biancocelesti have taken maximum points from their opening game in each of the last three Serie A campaigns, though, and will now seek to extend that streak to four for the first time in their history.
They may have lost 3-0 at Dall’Ara last October, but Lazio have come out on top in their last three home matches against Sunday’s opponents, including a reverse of that scoreline in February.
On the last six occasions when making their season debut away from home, Bologna have lost five times, so a trip to the Olimpico was perhaps not the kindest start the Serie A schedule could have thrown up.
Having finished 13th last term, being plagued by inconsistency, Lazio legend Sinisa Mihajlovic now returns to Rome aiming to overcome a sluggish spell in the transfer market over the summer.
The Bologna boss is tasked with securing a top-half place this season, but has only been able to bring in Scottish prospect Lewis Ferguson from Aberdeen and Juventus loanee Andrea Cambiaso – who will replace Ferguson’s compatriot Aaron Hickey on the left flank – among a low-profile bunch.
While Eldor Shomurodov could be set to join after a dismal time at Roma, in recent weeks Hickey has been followed out of the door by midfielder Mattias Svanberg and Belgian centre-back Arthur Theate – but Marko Arnautovic remains, despite the desperate overtures of Manchester United.
An apparently weakened squad – which lost their final two warm-ups to Dutch opposition, but progressed in the Coppa Italia last week – therefore sees the Emilians arrive in the capital as clear outsiders.
Maurizio Sarri is expected to include only two of his summer signings in the starting XI on Sunday, as Alessio Romagnoli bolsters the back four and Luis Maximiano makes his debut in goal.
Matias Vecino, Ivan Provedel and Matteo Cancellieri should all feature on the Lazio bench, but another new boy, Nicolo Casale, is ruled out by suspension. Additionally, Sarri will not be able to call upon injured winger Pedro, who has an ankle problem.
Up front, Ciro Immobile starts, having won his fourth Capocannoniere crown last term; during the last 10 Serie A seasons, only Luis Muriel has scored more goals in his first match of the season than the Italy striker’s eight in nine games.
Meanwhile, due to Aaron Hickey’s departure for Brentford, on-loan wing-back Andrea Cambiaso is set to start for Bologna, particularly as Mitchell Dijks is out in the cold while seeking a new club.
Lewis Ferguson must wait to make his debut, due to a suspension which follows him from Aberdeen, but Sinisa Mihajlovic has no major injury concerns.
In attack, a three-way battle to support star striker Marko Arnautovic awaits Nicola Sansone – who scored the winner against Cosenza in Monday’s Coppa Italia tie – Musa Barrow and Riccardo Orsolini.
Lazio possible starting lineup:
Maximiano; Lazzari, Patric, Romagnoli, Marusic; Milinkovic-Savic, Cataldi, Basic; Anderson, Immobile, Zaccagni
Bologna possible starting lineup:
Skorupski; Soumaoro, Medel, Bonifazi; De Silvestri, Dominguez, Schouten, Soriano, Cambiaso; Sansone; Arnautovic