Quiet man leads Lazio onto the shoulder of the champions

Everyone needs a helping hand when they're chasing the title, and Lazio were given one on Sunday when Sergio Floccari opened the scoring against Atalanta.

The striker clearly controlled a rebound off the crossbar with his right arm before smashing the ball into the net – and from there the Romans went on to wrap up the points when Atalanta defender Davide Brivio dived to head into his own net.

The home win, coupled with another stuttering performance from Juventus in their draw at Parma, cuts the gap at the top from eight to three points – and the Eagles’ claws are sharpened to grab the top perch if Antonio Conte’s team continue to drop points.

In fact, the Juve coach inadvertently helped set up Parma’s equaliser when he shouted out to Mirko Vucinic to leave a long clearance from the home side, only for the ball to land at the feet of Nicola Sansone who raced through to score.

Conte may have to keep his touchline thoughts to himself in the future, but while he belongs of that rather eccentric club of animated Italian coaches, his Lazio counterpart Vladimir Petkovic prefers to maintain a lower profile in the technical area.

RESULTS Sat 12 Jan Bologna 4-0 Chievo; Internazionale 2-0 Pescara Sun 13 Jan Torino 3-2 Siena; Lazio 2-0 Atalanta; Udinese 3-1 Fiorentina; Cagliari 2-1 Genoa; Parma 1-1 Juventus; Napoli 3-0 Palermo; Catania 1-0 Roma; Sampdoria 0-0 Milan

His arrival in the capital in the summer was equally low-key: very little was expected from the former coach of Swiss sides Young Boys, whom he took to a runners-up spot, and FC Sion following a brief spell in Turkey with Samsunspor.

While few expected his stay to be lengthy, Lazio president Claudio Lotito was confident that the Bosnian-born boss, who had come up the hard way in Swiss football and for a five-year period between 2003 and 2008 had combined coaching with being a charity worker, would be the steadying influence for a group of players who lacked confidence in their ability to make the final step forward.

Petkovic: Quietly assured Lazio boss

Lotito is a bit of a thrift-shop club owner and no doubt the mere €600,000 salary tempted him to go with an unknown coach – but Petkovic demanded a peformance-related bonus, which he is well on the way to triggering.

A calm exterior hides a shrewd and self-assured operator who has already written himself into fan folklore following the derby win over AS Roma.

It is a self-belief that he has generated amongst the players and despite possessing only one out-and-out attacker in Miroslav Klose, with Floccari the back-up after Tommaso Rocchi’s move to Inter, the team has gone on a 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side were undefeated for 24 matches in the 1997-98, the springboard for a period of success that led to the club winning its last title in the 1999-2000 campaign – and Petkovic’s side now have the exact number of points, 42, as Eriksson’s scudetto winners at the same stage of the season.

Where once Lazio faltered at home, now the Olympic Stadium is a fortress: nine league wins out of 11, with 12 wins from 16 games in all competitions in front of their ever more positive supporters.

Klose may be carrying the bulk of the goalscoring duties but Petkovic has got the rest of the team playing for the German striker and in a masterstroke has re-established Hernanes as a deep-lying playmaker – a position he occupied when playing in Brazil.

Not only is he the chief assist man but by starting runs later into the area, the skilful South American has helped on the scoring front: with seven goals, he's just three behind Klose.

Wins have generally been of the 1-0 or 2-1 variety, with Sunday's 2-0 being extravagant for Lazio – but history has demonstrated that Serie A success is built around such meagre margins coupled with frugal defending.

Needless to say, Lazio have given little away at the back: their 19 goals against in 20 games is bettered only by Juventus (14) and the 18 of Napoli, Juve's other chief title rival five points off the pace.

Across town, Roma may have been grabbing all the headlines as the league’s top goalscorers with 43 goals but their expansive style of play comes at a cost: they've conceded 34, Serie A's third-worst defensive record, and languish 10 points behind their city rivals.

Petkovic would never be so reckless in his approach – and for now he is proving that prudence is the better part of valour.