Lazio come into this weekend’s Derby della Capitale in good form. One man, in particular, is ready to set the Eternal City alight
In the space of five minutes, Keita Balde scored the fastest Serie A hat-trick in the 21st century as well as the quickest from an Aquile player.
His pace and technique left Palermo bamboozled as the Biancocelesti went on to register a 6-2 victory and maintain fourth place in the league table.
It would be easy to dismiss Balde’s performance because Palermo are close to becoming mathematically relegated but the Spanish-born starlet took his chances in emphatic fashion.
The 22-year-old completed the first treble in his professional career and his market value should increase as AC Milan as well as English Premier League giants Manchester United and Chelsea are reportedly chasing his services.
With his contract expiring in June 2018, any potential buyer could acquire him for €25 million according to reports in Il Corriere dello Sport on Tuesday, and he would be an asset any attack with his skill and speed.
A former Barcelona youth team product, Keita joined the Lazio primavera in 2011 and made his senior debut for the Aquile two years later. He has predominantly played on the left-wing throughout his career but he has shown versatility and tactical flexibility under Simone Inzaghi this season.
Whenever there is a change in formation, this has usually resulted in a change of role for the Senegalese international but despite the occasional change in roles, his contribution has been greater since the arrival of the new tactician.
For the Palermo game, Keita partnered Ciro Immobile in the 3-5-2 formation, which has been used by Inzaghi on a number of occasions. This allows the Senegalese international to run through more central channels instead of running down the touchline or cutting-in from the wing.
Lazio were already 2-0 up after 10 minutes against Palermo and the 22-year-old got his first goal of the game 11 minutes later. He played a one-two with Stefan De Vrij before beating two defenders and side-footing a shot past Josip Posavec.
Three minutes later Keita scored his second and his team’s fourth from the penalty spot after he was fouled by Rosanero defender Michel Morganella. Although Posavec got a touch of the ball, the Aquile forward struck his penalty with enough power and it was beyond the goalkeeper’s control.
His hat-trick was completed in the 26th minute when Immobile back-heeled the ball into his path and the Senegalese international chipped the ball over an advancing Posavec. He also had the opportunity to net a fourth goal after making a rapid solo run in the second half but his angled daisy-cutter just missed the goal.
Keita now has 11 Serie A goals for the 2016-17 season, which is easily his best tally for his career so far, and only Immobile has more with 20. His influence in attack has been important in the Biancocelesti’s battle for a Europa League spot and possibly a Coppa Italia title.
Even if he does leave at the end of the season, the Lazio winger has cemented a place in the club’s history with his heroics against Palermo.