Lazio bounced back from Rome derby defeat with a 2-1 win over Sassuolo on Saturday which got their push for European football back on track.
Goals in each half from Manuel Lazzari and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic were enough to take Maurizio Sarri’s side up to fifth, a point ahead of Atalanta and Roma, who hammered their capital city rivals 3-0 before the international break.
However they are some way off the Champions League places as they trail Juventus, who sit fourth ahead of Sunday’s big match with champions Inter Milan, by seven points.
“We showed from the first minute that this was not the same team we saw in the derby,” Milinkovic-Savic told DAZN.
“We want to finish in the top four, I know it will be difficult but we’re going to try.”
That defeat, and possibly the large hail stones which thumped down in Rome, led to a small crowd of less than 20,000 showing up for the first match at the Stadio Olimpico since grounds were allowed to fully open to the public for the first time in two years.
Those that did show up were rewarded with an entertaining match which had been billed as a battle between rivals for the Italy striker’s berth — the hosts’ captain Ciro Immobile and the promising Gianluca Scamacca who started the Azzurri’s 3-2 friendly win in Turkey on Tuesday.
On Friday Sarri said that Immobile had been made a “scapegoat” for Italy’s failure to qualify for consecutive World Cups as he hasn’t taken his phenomenal Lazio form, 21 goals in 26 league matches in all competitions, to the national team.
Immobile, Scamacca flop
However neither made a particular impression, with Scamacca fluffing a good early chance when Thomas Strakosha smothered an attempted chip finish.
Immobile meanwhile should have done better with a presentable headed chance in the 28th minute before scuffing wide nine minutes later when well set up by Felipe Andersen.
Instead it was down to Lazzari to open the scoring in the 17th minute, the 28-year-old pouncing on a misplaced pass before charging towards goal, cutting onto his left foot and stroking home a perfect low finish.
Shortly after laying on Immobile for another missed chance, Milinkovic-Savic made sure of the win with 50 minutes on the clock.
The Serbia international had to wait a few minutes for a VAR offside check which eventually went in his favour after he scuffed in from Luis Alberto’s free-kick.
Hamed Traore pulled a goal back for Sassuolo but his 94th minute finish was too late to create any real danger for Lazio.
Earlier Emmanuel Gyasi pushed Spezia closer towards Serie A safety on Saturday with the last-gasp winner in a 1-0 success over Venezia which put his side well clear of the drop.
Gyasi bundled home the winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time after Niki Maenpaa pushed away Rey Manaj’s shot to move Spezia up to 14th on 32 points.
Thiago Motta’s side are 10 points ahead of third-from-bottom Genoa, at Verona on Monday, and Venezia who are at risk of dropping straight back to Serie B after promotion last season.