Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Heading into the last round of fixtures before yet another international break, just five points separate nineteen of the twenty in Serie A, with only Udinese off the pace on one point so far.
Inter lead the way, which is no real surprise, but there alongside the defending champions on ten points in joint-first place are Lazio.
The Eagles, who released a real-life bird of prey ahead of the match against AC Milan, were last in such a lofty position heading into the third game of last season. Before that they made a more stirring start two seasons ago when they held onto their lead for six games before falling away.
Most of last season was one long round of recriminations for Lazio, as president Claudio Lotito went head-to-head through the courts with contract rebels Goran Pandev and Cristian Ledesma.
The former won his case and joined Inter, but the latter was left to go cap in hand and ask for his place in the squad back after he failed to have his contract rescinded on a technicality, as the Argentine had been training with the first team.
Lazio's celeb fans include Bill Oddie and Terry Nutkins...
It was all soon water under the bridge with the midfielder signing a new deal, but Lotito decided that the only way to ensure there was more harmony within the camp was to give everyone a pay-rise.
The annual wage bill has increased by €10 million to somewhere in the region of €41 million – pocket money for the Milanese clubs and even AS Roma for that matter, but enough to put Lazio in the top six of the league’s big payers.
Astute as he is cantankerous, Lotito has always possessed the ability to dig up a little gem from apparently nowhere.
Two seasons ago it was Mauro Zarate - a Birmingham City reject – who had taken the top flight by storm and now it looks as if Anderson Hernanes is another find who will have AC Milan and Inter wondering why they allowed the Brazilian to slip through their grasp.
The midfielder had been linked with both clubs for a number of seasons and it seemed odds on that he would be wearing red or blue and not the sky blue of Lazio.
However, while the Rossoneri dithered as to whether Hernanes was the heir to Andrea Pirlo, and Inter decided he should first be loaned to Chievo if they bought him, Lotito was working his connections in Brazil. All it took was €13 million for Sao Paolo to part with their playmaker.
Hernanes: Soaring high with Lazio
The chance of a starting place in a Serie A team was enough to persuade the player nicknamed the Prophet that his future was in the Capital – and along with Zarate who has rediscovered his touch and guile – the 25-year-old has been in inspired form.
He may lack pace but he is quick over two or three yards, which enables him to escape close marking, as he demonstrated when he skipped past Alessandro Nesta to set up Sergio Floccari for the equaliser against Milan.
However, it is his effortless control and quick-feet that stand Hernanes out as the most creative player Lazio have had since the majestic midfielder stroller Juan Sebastian Veron.
There are similarities between the two: an almost languid style, excellent range of passing and an ability to take a shot early. In fact, apart from Inter’s Samuel Eto’o no one has had more efforts on goal than the new darling of the Curva Nord.
Around him there are a host of hard-working and seasoned professionals: Cristian Brocchi, Stefano Mauri, the aforementioned Ledesma and the fit-again Matuzalem, who are all willing to put in the hard work to leave Hernanes free to get into advanced positions.
It is not as if the new man is grabbing all the limelight however, and tellingly in the first five games seven different names have appeared on Lazio's scoresheet.
Much of this success is down to veteran coach Edy Reja, whose hard work from the end of last season in bringing the team together is really starting to show dividends - and in their last eight away games the Biancocelesti have accumulated 19 points out of 24 thanks to six wins, a draw and a defeat (2-0 against Sampdoria on the opening day of this season).
This weekend another surprise pacesetter, Brescia, arrive at the Olympic Stadium, but the Prophet has already sent out the message that the Aquile are soaring again.
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