Coppa Italia: Semi-finals / Team rating: 5 / Top scorer: Di Natale (17)
Europe: Europa League Play-off round
A dependence on an elder statesman, failure to replace one of their top performers, and reliance on youngsters have contributed to a stop-start season for Udinese, writes Anthony Alborino.
For Udinese, the 2013-14 season was characterised by inconsistency, with a place in the Coppa Italia semi-finals certainly the peak. However, defeat in the Europa League playoffs to Czech side Slovan Liberec, and an inability to string together more than two wins all campaign will also sit as standout regrets.
The Zebrette started the season with one the youngest squads in Serie A, but, having finished inside the top five for three consecutive years, hopes were understandably high that they could reach similar heights in 2013-14.
Following a difficult start to the campaign though, which saw them record just six wins from their opening 17 fixtures, the Friuliani suffered a Christmas hangover, as they lost four games in succession after the turn of the year. Many will claim that the subsequent 2-0 win away to Bologna in early February was the catalyst for their slight upturn in results, as prior to this, the Bianconeri were playing with fire.
In times gone by, the well-reputed talent-spotters had lost multiple big-name players in pre-season, but still managed to hit above their weight in the League, and with the help of an outstanding scouting network they often succeeded in replacing their stars at minimal cost.
However, with the Friuliani failing to adequately reinvest the money from the sale of Moroccan defender Medhi Benatia, the club ended the season with the seventh worst defensive record in Serie A, shipping 57 goals in 38 games.
In attack, the problem was an over-reliance on veteran striker Antonio Di Natale, as whilstthe 36-year-old managed an impressive 17 goals, 12 more than nearest rival Emmanuel Badu, fellow forwards Luis Muriel and Nico Lopez could only muster five between them.
There was one young player who far exceeded expectations, though - the emergence of 17-year-old goalkeeper Simone Scuffet was one of the most exciting aspects of the club’s season, with the Italy Under-17 international even earning early World Cup consideration for his exploits in black and white.
The experienced tactician has come in for much criticism for the difficult season the Bianconeri have endured, but it would be a hasty decision to let go of a Coach who has guided the club to three top-five finishes in the past four years.
The 22-year-old Brazilian box-to-box midfielder demonstrated his quality and versatility with standout displays against Parma in Week 1, at home to Atalanta in Round 25 and away to Inter four weeks later. He is a pivotal player in Udinese’s midfield, and is undoubtedly destined for a bright future.
- Along with Fiorentina’s 5-3 triumph over Verona in mid-April, the Bianconeri’s 5-3 victory over Livorno in early May was the highest scoring game of the 2013-14 season.
- For the 1-0 defeat to Parma in Round 21, Coach Francesco Guidolin fielded a starting XI with an average age of under 23, the youngest of any Serie A line-up in the 2013-14 campaign.
- Club captain Antonio Di Natale’s haul of 17 league strikes this term made him top-scorer for the Zebrette for the fifth consecutive year.
- Di Natale’s goals accounted for nearly 37 per cent of his side’s total during the course of the season.
|10||F||Antonio Di Natale||32||17||-|