t’s alive!” The front page of Sunday’s Corriere dello Sport shrieked out like Doctor Frankenstein at the awakening of his creature. As late as 10pm the previous evening it had seemed one of the most compelling Serie A title races in years was coming to a premature end. And then, with a jolt, it wasn’t.
The newspaper gave credit to a Spanish sorcerer. Luis Alberto – Il Mago, as they know him in Rome – had scored the winning goal as Lazio came from behind to beat Fiorentina, dragging his team back to within four points of the leaders, Juventus.
His strike blended individual brilliance with good fortune. The touch and acceleration he used to glide away from Milan Badelj in the 83rd minute were glorious, as was the precision of his finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the D. In between he had sought to play a pass to Joaquín Correa only for the ball to come straight back off the heel of a defender.
Alberto would be a fitting saviour. Even more than Ciro Immobile, he has been the key component in Lazio’s title challenge – the sparkling player around whom a team find their orbit. This was his fifth goal of the Serie A season but he also leads the division with 13 assists. The Italian Footballers’ Association twice named Alberto as their player of the month before the coronavirus interruption, including in February – the last award handed out.
He has gone through several iterations since he arrived at Lazio in 2016. He started out as an alternative to Antonio Candreva on the wing before Simone Inzaghi brought him into the middle – first as a deep-lying playmaker, then as a No 10. Alberto rewarded that decision with 11 goals and 14 assists in 2017-18.
This season marked another fresh departure, Inzaghi pulling the Spaniard back again to play as part of a midfield three. Lining up on either side of the team’s regista, he and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic have licence to break forward and join the attack, supporting players such as Immobile, Correa and Felipe Caicedo.
For most of this season, those combinations have overwhelmed opponents. Lazio had gone 21 games without defeat before the pandemic hit. We still do not know whether Inzaghi’s team can recapture that form. They lost their first game back – a tough fixture under any circumstances, away to Atalanta – and, although they did win on Saturday, they were outplayed by Fiorentina for more than an hour.