Celtic v Lazio: Lowdown on Serie A side with strong European pedigree and solid cup record but who are blighted by racism issues

Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi during his press conference at Celtic Park. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi during his press conference at Celtic Park. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
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Celtic's Europa League opponents Lazio have Serie A's top scorer in their ranks but may decide not to start with Ciro Immobile. Here's the lowdown on the Roman club whose illustrious alumni include Pavel Nedved, Roberto Mancini, Christian Vieri, Juan Veron, Hernan Crespo and Paul Gascoigne.

European history

A club with a strong European pedigree, this is Lazio’s third season in a row in the Europa League group stage. They reached the knockout rounds in the past two years but are looking to build on that and edge closer to the form which saw them reach the final in 1998 before losing to Serie A rivals Inter Milan.

They won the European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1999 before beating Champions League winners Manchester United to secure the Uefa Super Cup in the same year. Their reputation on the big stage has waned slightly since then and while they remain a world famous club, they do not carry the same clout. This will be Celtic’s first head to head with the Rome club.

Current form

It is not just their European results that have stuttered since the late 90s - they have not won the Serie A title since 1999-2000 but they have continued to perform well in the cups. They have won the Supercoppa Italiana three times and the Coppa Italia five times since 1999, including last season.

They drew 3-3 with Atalanta at the weekend, showing resilience to fight back from 3-0 down to stretch their current unbeaten run to four. That includes a comprehensive Serie A victory over Genoa and a 2-1 success against Europa League Group E rivals Rennes before a battling league draw against Bologna before they met Atalanta.

Generally a mid-table team these days, they are sit seventh in Serie A, ten points behind leaders Juventus, but they have struggled on the road this season, which will encourage Celtic. They have lost at SPAL and Inter in the league and went down 2-1 in Romania to Cluj in their Europa League opener. That kind of away form suggests a trip to an arena like Celtic Park on a big European night could be daunting.

How they got here

Late goals from Spanish-born Serbian international Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Argentina forward Joaquin Correa saw Lazio beat Atalanta in last season’s Coppa Italia final and gain automatic admission to the group stage of this term’s Europa League.

Strengths and weaknesses

A club where world stars such as Pavel Nedved, Roberto Mancini, Christian Vieri and Alessandro Nesta, as well as Juan Veron, Hernan Crespo, Paul Gascoigne, Marcelo Salas and Sinisa Mihajlovic, have all strutted there stuff, there is still quality and technique a plenty in the side that will take to the pitch against Celtic in Glasgow, and then in Rome early next month.

The gifted Argentine Correa offers plenty of attacking threat and Ciro Immobile, who is Serie A's leading goalscorer with nine goals in eight games, gives the side an edge up front.

Some reports suggest Immobile may be rested for the Celtic match, or at least start on the bench as his manager tries to manage his game time to ensure he gets the best from him throughout the campaign,

Technically gifted, critics accuse Lazio of underestimating rivals and switching off for periods in the games. If they were to make those mistakes at Celtic Park, it could open the door for Neil Lennon's side who looked hungry and full of verve in Saturday's crushing win over Ross County.

Coach

Simone Inzaghi is a man with lengthy links to the Rome club. Having enjoyed a long and successful playing career with Lazio, winning Serie A and multiple Coppa Italia titles before finally announcing his retirement in 2010, he is keen to add to those successes as a manager. Like his Celtic counterpart, he understands the club he heads and the demands of the fans. He earned his stripes as a youth coach at Lazio but he was asked to take the first team on an interim basis in 2016, following Stefano Pioli's exit. He was briefly replaced by Marcelo Bielsa before being handed the reins full-time and has justified his position by guiding the club to a series of strong league finishes and Coppa Italia glory last season.

Pride and joy

Immobile is probably the most famous and most lauded member of the current squad due to his prolific goalscoring record, netting 76 goals in 113 Serie A games. He won the top-flight golden boot while playing for Torino in the 2013-14 campaign and has enhanced that reputation since joining Lazio in 2016, following spells at Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla. A key player for Inzaghi, he is a striker with a clinical eye for goal who is also brimming with confidence. His absence would be a huge boost for Celtic.

Cause for embarrassment

The Lazio fans have been a major problem for the Rome club who have incurred the wrath of Uefa and are now firmly under the spotlight as the authorities try to tackle the issue of racism which is blighting the game.

The Serie A side were punished by the European game's governing body afters supporters were found guilty of making fascist salutes during the 2-1 win over Rennes. That game was already subject to a partial stadium closure for the racist behaviour of the Serie A side's fans in a Europa League last-32 game against Sevilla last season. The latest transgression saw the club fined 20,000 euros and told to close the Curva Nord section of the Stadio Olimpico for their next home European tie, which is against Celtic, next month.

Stating “clear condemnation from the club against the odious racist behaviour of a few irresponsible people”, Lazio have appealed the closure and cites the fact they have banned 20 fans as evidence that they are doing all they can to tackle the issue. But, they have also pleaded with fans who are heading to Glasgow to be on their best behaviour, only too aware that further trouble could leave them facing a full stadium closure.