Sergej Milinkovic-Savic just needed a glance to know it was time to start running. Few of the 60,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium could have guessed what was about to happen as the Serbian, moving without the ball in the middle of Juventus, began to accelerate towards the left side. Seconds later, he was out of the penalty, scoring to give Lazio a 2-1 lead.
It was a strike that highlighted the breadth of Milinkovic-Savic's talent. He judged the move perfectly, moving away from Alex Sandro and running for the blind spot behind Ligt's Matthijs in the quarterback. It took strength and elegance to postpone the Dutchman while taming a cross in one boot and burying it in the other.
What the hell inspired you to do such a race? The ball was in midfield when Milinkovic-Savic launched his attack in the area. There were nine Juventus players between him and the goal. None of this seemed as relevant to him as being at Luis Alberto's feet.
"As soon as I see that he has the ball, I start making moves to hit me in the goal," Milinkovic-Savic explained later. "Your passes are always perfect."
The numbers support this statement. This was Luis Alberto's 11th assist in the Serie A season – most of any player in Europe's top five leagues – and also the second in the game. After Lazio fell behind in a goal by Cristiano Ronaldo, the Spaniard helped them return to level with a precise cross for Luiz Felipe to return home shortly after the break.
It was a turning point in the game, where Lazio found the confidence that had abandoned them during a torrid half-hour opening. Can it also be a turning point this season of Serie A? Lazio won 3-1, ending Juventus's undefeated start and their own 16-year career without a home win against Bianconeri.
"I remember that game," Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi later said, recalling his time at the club as a player. "I was at the bank at that time too!"
Circumstances favored his team on Saturday. Rodrigo Bentancur, Juventus' most impressive midfielder, was forced to injure himself after a knee injury on 41 minutes. The match seemed to be drifting in the second half before Juan Cuadrado was sent off for beating Manuel Lazzari. The Colombian was initially given a yellow card, but referee Michael Fabbri replaced him with a red one after an analysis of the VAR on the sideline.
Simone Inzaghi issues instructions to his Lazio team during the win against Juventus. Photo: Ettore Ferrari / AP
Juventus have won many games with 10 men on their way to eight consecutive Serie A titles. Lazio have shown the courage to go to jugular. Milinkovic-Savic's goal gave them a 74-minute lead, but even so, Inzaghi's team refused to sit down. They got a penalty moments later, when another lightning counter ended with Wojciech Szczęsny tripping over Joaquín Correa.
The goalkeeper might be lucky not to follow Cuadrado to the tunnel. Instead, he eventually saved Ciro Immobile's penalty and attempted follow-up. He did his best to stop Lazio again in the 94th minute, defending Lazzari's shot at the end of the three-to-two lead, only for Felipe Caicedo to force the rebound.
The defeat cost Juventus a chance to return to the top of the table after Internazionale drew 0-0 with Roma on Friday night. But could it also have allowed a third horse to enter the Serie A title race? Lazio now occupy only five points from first place, and just three behind defending champions.
Milinkovic-Savic sought to soften such a conversation before the start of the game, insisting that his team was only looking for a place in the top four. Maurizio Sarri disagrees. "Lazio are strong, more technical than physical," said the Juventus coach. "They will fight us and Inter for Scudetto."
This will take more days like this from Luis Alberto. Three additional assists would correspond to the personal record he set with Lazio in 2017-18. At that time, there was much credit to his mental coach Juan Carlos Campillo, who would have helped with techniques to maintain his sharp focus for 90 minutes, even on those occasions when the ball refused to appear.
The form of the player fell again last season, however. Asked in October, during an interview with the Spanish daily Marca, about Campillo's role, Luis Alberto suggested that his latest revival could have more to do with the physical side of the game. He added more strength to his body in the summer and "learned that you need to take better care of yourself."
On the other hand, perhaps this last increase has more to do with the team around you. Luis Alberto was not the only Lazio player to disappoint last season, Immobile dropped 29 to 15 in the league and Milinkovic-Savic fought so hard during the first half of the campaign that owner Claudio Lotito says he declined a € 1 bid. of 100 million began to sound like a man who set fire to a winning lottery ticket.
While fighting, Inzaghi was forced to obtain more from other members of his squad – Correa and Caicedo in particular. This season, with established players returning to form and Lazzari's signing filling a creative gap to the right of the lineup, the team suddenly has a wealth of attack riches to summon.
They get even better when Luis Alberto is pulling the strings. Milinkovic-Savic made it all seem so simple when he explained his decision to run as soon as he saw the Spaniard on the ball, but he still couldn't hide his joy that the play was worth it. "I may have to go back and watch that goal again," he said. "Only two or three times."
International 0 Rome 0
Lazio 3 Juventus 1
Udinese 1 Napoli 1
Atalanta 3 Verona 2
Bologna 2 Milan 3
Sampdoria 0 Parma 1
SPAL 0 Brescia 1
Sassuolo 2 Cagliari 2
Torino 2 Fiorentina 1
Lecce 2 Genoa 2
• The biggest one of the weekend was, unfortunately, the front page of Corriere dello Sport horribly misjudged on Thursday. He received criticism from both players involved – Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling – and led Rome and Milan to ban the newspaper from its training facilities until late 2019, but the newspaper responded by doubling with editorials on Friday and Saturday that attacked its critics and painted them as poisonous people intentionally distorting speech.
The sad thing is that the title was almost certainly not intended to offend, and the attached article highlighted, positively, how both players had faced racism. But in a hurry to launch a counteroffensive, Corriere editor Ivan Zazzaroni has never stopped trying to hear why so many people – including critically the players themselves – found the headline problematic.
There are cultural and generational differences at play here that profoundly influence the protagonists' perspective. This could have been an opportunity to try to understand each other better, but it is difficult to do so when your only response to saying that you may have made a mistake is to point a finger back and shout even louder.