"Welcome home, Danilo" - The Curva Nord
Lucas Leiva injured - Milan Badelj injured - one void to fill in the center of midfield. Simone Inzaghi, forced to look back at his options in midfield, sees one Danilo Cataldi; a moment that seemed like it was taken out of the last pages of a fairy tale, the Italian was chosen to start in the regista role of the Biancocelesti's starting eleven, against Spal in Matchday 11 of the Serie A TIM.
A resounding performance and 4-1 victory for Lazio, Cataldi provided an assist on Ciro Immobile's first goal in the 26' before scoring a goal himself in the 59' in his first start this 2018/19 campaign; his assist was a deep-lying cross from the corner flag that found Immobile at the back post (who volleyed the ball first time past Vanja Milinkovic-Savic), while his goal had left everyone speechless. A wonder-strike, the 24-year-old midfielder picked up the ball around 30-yards out, took a few steps forward, and unleashed a venomous strike into the top left of the goal from the left side of the pitch. A strike so breathtaking, Inzaghi was left with a visibly large smile on his face, clapping to applaud the player. In addition, the goal signified liberation for the Italian - it was an occasion to re-embrace the people who had pampered him from his youth as he celebrated with the tifosi. Overall, Cataldi was quite simply the best player on the field - the standout star; he had 91 touches of the ball, 62/68 passes completed (for a 91% accuracy rate), 4 chances created (which was the same number that Spal created all match), 3 shots, 2 interceptions, 2 clearances, 1 assist, and 1 goal. This all happened, as aforementioned, in his FIRST start this campaign for Lazio - quite the impressive feat. He ended the game with solely happy feelings and thoughts, however, it has not always been like this for the Roman-born midfielder; let's rewind a little bit.
After breaking through the Lazio Primavera sides, he was sent to the Serie B right away to play with Crotone (2013/14) at the age of 19 to gain some much-needed first team experience; he was a starter and played 35 matches for the club, scoring 4 goals. All looked well for the player - he returned to Rome and made his debut with his club in January of 2015, scored his first goal, and played in 1376 minutes of first-team football in all competitions (around 11 total matches in the Serie A TIM). The following season (2015/16) consisted of similar statistics: he collected 1890 minutes of football from the Supercoppa, Coppa Italia, Europa League, and Serie A TIM. Then the 2016/17 season hit. Cataldi was looking to make himself a guaranteed starter in the line-up, but the exact opposite happened. As the January transfer window hit, he had only played in about 6 full matches (566 minutes of football) and he requested a loan; he transferred to Genoa and played 13 matches for the side, one of those against Lazio. When Genoa scored in this match, he made a huge mistake - he celebrated in front of the Laziali. This resulted in the player being frozen out of the club - when returning in the summer of 2017/18, he didn't even step foot into the pre-season training with the team - Lazio accepted a loan request for the player from Benevento. He played a full season for the newly promoted side, making 30 appearances and scoring one goal off a free kick against no other than Lazio themselves. When this happened, Danilo did not celebrate - he looked more apologetic.
Seeing Cataldi mature, the club decided to give him another opportunity to play for his beloved Lazio. Fast forward to this past summer, the Italian re-joined his teammates at Auronzo di Cadore. Realizing the vast amount of players in his position at the club (Lucas Leiva, Milan Badelj, Valon Berisha, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Luis Alberto, Marco Parolo, Alessandro Murgia), Cataldi decided to remain at the club to fight for his position. An unlikely situation, before Matchday 11, Cataldi had only made an appearance in 3 other matches for the club this 2018/19 campaign - a total of 74'. However, with injuries to their two starting holding midfielders in Lucas and Badelj, Cataldi will most likely start in the matches to come and with performances similar to that against Spal, in which he showed his ability to command the midfield, provide support to the back line, and create chances, you can expect him to hold onto that position.
Lazio's prodigal son has been reborn, ready to shine and take flight for the Eagles - let's just hope Inzaghi continues to give him the capability to continuously prove himself.