A 21-year-old Roman will spearhead VfB Stuttgart's bid to end a four-game wait for a UEFA Europa League home win – in the round of 16 against an S.S. Lazio team making a habit of trips to Germany.
Federico Macheda has been restricted to six substitute appearances since arriving in Germany this winter on loan from Manchester United FC. Yet with Vedad Ibišević suspended, Stuttgart coach Bruno Labbadia revealed the youngster will lead the attack from the off on Thursday. "As a Roman and a former Lazio player this will be an emotional game for me," the Italian U21 interrnational admitted.
Macheda describes himself as "kind of a fan" of the Biancocelesti, whom he represented at youth level before moving to Old Trafford in September 2007. He insists his head will rule his heart, though, saying: "It would be a great thing if I scored." Labbadia concurred, underlining his expectations for the first instalment of this tie: "We want to lay down a marker with a really good home game, to give us a good platform for the second leg.
"Lazio are a strong team and have improved a lot over the past two years. They have an experienced side, like a Champions League team, and a lot of very good individual players, especially going forward," added the coach, who is confident Arthur Boka will be available after illness. "We are happy, though, and approach the game in a good frame of mind. We know how strong Lazio are, but we are also strong – especially on our travels."
Stuttgart's last away display was less impressive, losing 2-1 at Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Saturday. Lazio also struggled on their travels at the weekend, going down 3-0 at AC Milan, but their coach Vladimir Petković is optimistic his charges can bounce back. "This is not a positive moment for us," he said. "We lost against Milan but we didn't play poorly until we had [Antonio Candreva] sent off.
"Stuttgart are a very strong team, they may have had some problems recently but they're solid," Petković continued. "They rarely drop points at home so it's going to be tough for us. This game won't decide anything but we can take a decent step towards the next round. What I want from my players is to be self-confident: I want them to show what they can do."
Lazio were 5-3 aggregate winners against another Bundesliga club, VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, in the round of 32 although their coach acknowledges the need for more defensive solidity than was exhibited in the 3-3 first-leg draw in Germany. "We must keep focused for 90 minutes. This is a two-legged tie and we'll have to fight for every ball," he said.
"It's always easier to play at home so we know the first leg will be tough for us, but a top team tries to play the same way every time, whether home or away. We're probably still lacking something to be a big team, but if we try to play our football in Germany maybe we can become a top team as well."
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