The season 2001/02 - source- www.lazioclubmalta.com
Only fourteen months had passed from Lazio's second league title but a lot of things had changed. Lazio's financial possibilities decreased and it was time to keep an eye on the financial situation before investing heavily. The squad that won the title was being dismembered slowly. In a hectic transfer market Cragnotti sold fans'-idols Nedved and Salas to Juventus and Veron to Manchester United. It was a really hard blow for the fans who had already suffered a lot due to arch-rivals Roma title.
They were expecting Lazio to strengthen itself in order to be a valid challenger for the title. Nedved's departure especially was quite unexpected since some weeks earlier had announced a new agreement with the club. All this created tension between the fans and the club's president. The latter in a desperate move to control the fans anger, who demanded explanation, decided to acquire Jaap Stam who had some problems with Manchester United and Basque midfielder Gaizka Mendieta from Valencia. In the preliminary round of the Champions League Lazio faced Danish Champions Fc Copenhagen and lost 2-1 in the first leg played away.
In the return leg, Lazio won 4-1, however it suffered the Danish and only in the last minutes secured qualification. Crespo twice, Lopez and Fiore were the scorers. In the first outing of the domestic league, Lazio disappointed against Piacenza and managed only a 1-1 draw in Rome. Lopez had opened the score but Matuzalem equalised for the "Piacentini". The second match was played at Perugia and was a goaless draw. It was time for the Champions League. Lazio grouped with Galatasaray, Nantes and Psv were tipped as favourites to qualify for the next round. The first match at Instanbul was scheduled on the 11 September. Some hours before the match the world was shocked with the terrorists attack in the United States. Despite all this the Uefa gave instructions to play the match. Lazio did not play badly and had a couple of chances to break the deadline however it was the home side who scored the winner in the second half.
In the domestic league another goaless draw at home followed against lowly Torino. Criticism was high and Zoff ,who had done so well in the previous season when he took over midway through the season from Eriksson, was under pressure. The next Champions league home match against Nantes was to be crucial. Another shameful performance resulted in a 3-1 defeat. Cragnotti decided to change the coach and called Zaccheroni. The ex-Udinese and Milan mentor accepted enthusiastically. His first outing was against his former club Milan, with whom he won a league at the expense of Lazio in 1999. Lazio was unlucky and lost 2-0 suffering four injuries including that of Nesta and had to play a patch in ten. In the Champions League, Lazio faced Psv Eindhoven in the Netherlands and lost 1-0.
During the match Simeone suffered a serious long term injury. Cragnotti opted to strengthen the squad by purchasing Roman-born Fabio Liverani from Perugia. He was not welcomed among the fans since he never neglected his childhood passion for AS Roma and many stated that he was even seen celebrating Roma's title-winning in June. The squad's main problem seemed to be the forward line who could not find the opponents' net. The home match against Parma that ended goaless was the proof of this. Gaizka Mendieta who had cost so much was really disappointing and was relegated as a substitute. The first win of the season came against Atalanta. Despite playing badly, Lazio managed a 2-0 win (Lopez, Cuoto). This gave morale and in the next Champions League match PSV were beaten 2-1 with Lopez and Fiore the scorers. Then Lazio travelled to Venezia and the match ended goaless. The following Champions League match against Galatasaray in Rome, Lazio won 1-0 through Stankovic, to increase its qualification chances.
Two decisive matches were next, the derby and the do-or-die encounter against Nantes. In the first one Lazio lost 2-0. There was no time to recriminate, that Lazio was in France to play its future in Europe. A victory would have guaranteed a place to the next round while a defeat would mean elimination from European competitions. Lazio did not impress and lost 1-0 to go out of Europe. Everyone seemed depress and against Brescia the squad was heavily contested by the fans. The players however replied with a great performance and won 5-0 with a Crespo hatrick, Inzaghi and Stankovic. This positive display was repeated away against Udinese where Zaccheroni's boys won 4-1 with a Crespo brace,Liverani and Lopez. The squad seemed reborn and this was confirmed with the 1-0 victory over Juventus with a splendid goal from Liverani. Another away win followed this time 2-1 at Lecce with goals from Crespo and Inzaghi.
The positive run continued against Fiorentina with a 3-0 victory ,Poborsky, Crespo and Lopez.
Lazio's table standing was now better and critics stated that Lazio could still challenge for the title. However, Verona proved once again fatal for the light-blues; infact the home side won 3-1. In the Coppa Italia, Lazio had the best over Siena winning 2-1 at home with a Crespo brace and 1-0 away again through the Argentine striker. In last match before the Christmas break Lazio squandered a 2-0 lead against Bologna, to finish 2-2. At the restart, Lazio held league contenders Inter on a goaless draw. Then it travelled again to Verona this time to face Chievo. Despite Lopez's opener Chievo won 3-1.
This defeat was followed by another one away at Piacenza 1-0. Lazio was definitely out of the title contention and its main goal was to reach the fourth spot valid for a Champions League berth. In the Coppa Italia quarter finals first leg against Milan at San Siro, the squad did not play badly but lost 2-1 with the home side scoring the winner in injury time. Simone opened the score for Milan but Cesar equalised until Javi Moreno's strike broke the balance. In the return match, under a heavy contestation by its fans, Lazio succumbed 3-2 and was out of the cup. As had happened against Brescia, Lazio replied to the criticisms with a superb 5-0 win against Perugia, Inzaghi, Lopez, Fiore, Stankovic and Negro the scorers. This however was followed by an away defeat 1-0 against Torino.
An important match for the fourth place against Milan was next. Stankovic scored what seemed Lazio's winning goal until a last minute lucky goal by Shevchenko levelled for the hosts. Another direct encounter at Parma followed. Ex Lazio player Di Vaio scored the sole goal for the "gialloblu".
Mighty Chievo were next. Lazio opened the score with Inzaghi but enjoyed the lead just for four minutes when Legrottaglie equlised for the "clivensi". After various away defeats, Lazio return to success on away-soil at Bergamo against Atalanta thanks to a Poborsky finish. The victory gave some morale and the next home match, against almost relegated Venezia, was won 4-2 with a Crespo hatrick and a Pancaro goal. It was an important victory since the derby was next. Lazio fans hoped for a win however it turned out to be the worst of nightmares when Roma outplayed the light-blues to win 5-1, with Montella scoring a poker.
The match against Brescia was important to regain some morale. Lazio went in front through Crespo but a last minute penalty by Yllana levelled for the home-side. Lazio then beat 2-0 Udinese ( Stankovic, Fiore) in Rome and shared the spoils away against Juventus. Lopez opened the score and Trezegeut levelled for the "bianconeri" Three wins in a row put Lazio back in track for the fourth place battle. Lazio beat Lecce 1-0 in Rome through Fiore, then beat Fiorentina away 1-0 with a Castroman finish, and finally beat Verona at home 5-4 with Lazio who were 5-1 up with 10 minutes to go.
A delicate trip to Bologna was decisive to decide the Champions League berth. Unluckily Lazio performed badly and was beaten 2-0 with ex-Signori scoring the first goal. This meant Lazio was definitely out of the race to qualify for the Champions League and had to win the next match against Inter to secure at least a Uefa Cup berth. Inter who were leading the table with one point over Juventus and two over Roma had to win to secure the title after a 13 year stint. During the week many stated that Lazio was going to let Inter win in order to avoid the risk of helping city-rivals Roma to win the title. On the day, the Olimpico was packed by almost 40,000 Inter fans. Lazio was whistled by its own fans, who for one time preferred seeing their team losing.
The other matches were Udinese-Juventus and Torino -Roma while Bologna and Chievo who were contending Lazio the Uefa place were playing against Brescia and Atalanta respectively. Juventus went 2-0 up immediately but Inter replied and opened the score in Rome with Vieri. Lazio then levelled with Poborsky until Di Biagio put Inter back in front. Poborsky again equalised before the interval. In the second half, Roma opened the score while Lazio scored twice through Simeone and Inzaghi to succumb Inter and put its fans in drama. Juventus won the league, Roma finished second, Inter third while Lazio qualified for the Uefa cup with Chievo while Bologna's defeat relegated them to the Intertoto Cup.