This fixture brings together two teams that have started the post-holiday stretch in fantastic form. Udinese have won two and drawn one of their three Serie A games; Inter have won all four. What makes this game even more enticing is that both teams are attacking with relish and scoring goals – lots of them
Udinese have worked their way up Serie A to their present position of 8th after making the worst of possible starts to the 2010/11 season. In the month of September there was no team with a worse record than Udinese – four straight defeats, while only scoring two goals. To show how poor their start was a 0-0 draw away to Sampdoria was considered a breakthrough.
The turning point, however, came in round six when a very late goal from Moroccan centre back Benatia nipped all three points against newly promoted Cesena. Another late goal – this time from man-of-many clubs Bernardo Corradi – brought another three points the week after at newly promoted Brescia. With only a couple of minor set-backs it has been a case of onwards and upwards for Udinese since then.
Antonio Di Natale was the top scorer in Serie A last season with 29 goals and it also set a new high water mark for the club also – the previous best was 28 set by German striker Oliver Bierhoff. When you consider that Udinese only scored 54 league goals and finished 15th you realize what an accomplishment it was.
You can also realize how relieved Udinese were when Di Natale turned down a move to Juventus just before the August transfer window closed. Di Natale is flying once more and has 14 goals so far including two consecutive hat tricks in home games.
Di Natale has been supported this season by Chilean Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez is still only 22 but was signed by Udinese in 2006. He was loaned out for a season at Colo-Colo and then River Plate before finally arriving in Italy to play in the 2008/09. Originally tagged as a winger Sanchez’s abundant talent has been clear for sometime – however tendencies to drift out of the game for long periods and to play with his head down were also apparent.
The return of Coach Francesco Guidolin to the club he managed in the late 90s brought a fresh perspective to the enigma that had been Sanchez. Guidolin decided to try Sanchez in a central role and put him where the action is rather than constantly trying to involve him in the play from a wide position.
The decision has been a tremendous success with Sanchez’s pace and direct play tormenting defenders and defensive midfielders alike. Sanchez may only have five goals this season in Serie A but four have come in the last four games and his partnership with Di Natale has blossomed.
German Denis has also chipped in over the last four games as an effective substitute. He has three goals in that time with two in the dying seconds. Denis was the deemed surplus by Napoli when Edinson Cavani arrived from Palermo during the summer.
Others that have caught the eye for Udinese this season include Slovenian keeper Samir Handanovic, full back Mauricio Isla, centre back Cristian Zapata and midfielders Kwadwo Asamoah and Gokhan Inler. All are frequently linked with moves to bigger clubs but so far Udinese have resisted the temptation to cash in – for how long though?
Since replacing Rafa Benitez as manager of Inter earlier this month, Brazilian Leonardo has achieved something that none of his eleven Inter predecessors had achieved – win his first two games in charge (let alone more). What’s more Inter have done it with style and have rapidly cut into Milan’s lead at the top of Serie A. It is now down to six points, Inter still have a game in hand and at this point momentum is on the reigning champions’ side.
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