By Tom Kington in Rome
S.S. Lazio will look to shrug off indifferent domestic form and secure their second UEFA Champions League victory in Rome on Wednesday against an AC Sparta Praha side seeking points after an unlucky loss to Chelsea FC on Matchday 1.
'Lapses of concentration'
Roberto Mancini's side have drawn 2-2 with Empoli FC and lost 3-2 to AC Parma in recent Serie A games - in stark contrast to their excellent 2-0 win in Turkey against Besiktas JK. The coach said: "We have had some lapses of concentration lately and made some mistakes, but the squad is in good shape coming back into the Champions League."
Not underestimating Sparta
Although Lazio are the favourites after that victory in Istanbul, Mancini is taking nothing for granted against Sparta. "They are well organised, can run, have some good players and nearly drew with Chelsea," said Mancini. "This not the 'weak' team of the group."
Sparta coach Jirí Kotrba, on the other hand, is less circumspect about the outcome of the pool. "
Chelsea and Lazio are the favourites in this group," he said. "But we want to make progress difficult for them and we are here to earn some points. We will look to stop Lazio doing what they do well, such as counterattacking."
Kotrba's side played a harrying, hard tackling game against Chelsea - only conceding a late winner - and their goalscoring form has improved after an indifferent start in the Czech league. A seven-goal tally in two league victories have seen Marek Kincl, Libor Sionko and Lukáš Zelenka all make the scoresheet and they are among the possible starters eager to add more in Rome.
The visitors, who lost in both legs of their last encounter with Lazio in the 2000/01 Champions League, are without broken leg victim Martin Petras and veteran defensive midfield player Jirí Nemec, who suffered a last-minute injury. However, they do boast Karel Poborský, no stranger to scoring at the Stadio Olimpico having claimed two against Internazionale FC in his last outing as a Lazio player in May 2002.
While Lazio have lost domestic form as Sparta have found it, the Roman side have better injury news with the return of Jaap Stam - "one of the best defenders in the world" according to Mancini - and Demetrio Albertini, who won this competition with AC Milan in 1994. Dejan Stankovic has redisovered his long-range goalscoring habits, but the continued absence of César through a foot injury has denied support to the Lazio forwards.
Strikers cut off
"Bernardo Corradi and Simone Inzaghi are the kind of strikers that thrive on a good supply from the flanks, so the absence of César - who supplies the attack, defends and scores - is a problem since we have no player to replace him," said Mancini, who may give a starting role to fit again attacker Roberto Muzzi.
Long way to go
Even with a win on Wednesday night, though, Mancini said he would not consider Lazio's passage to the knockout stage booked. "
It is absurd to think we can wrap up the group on Wednesday, it is only the second game and anything can happen in the next four," he said.
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