Francesco Guidolin bemoaned Udinese’s lack of sharpness as they were held to a home 0-0 draw by Atalanta. Luca Cetta looks at the faltering Zebrette.
Despite controlling the contest on Sunday, Udinese were left frustrated by their inability to turn 63 per cent of possession into meaningful shots on goal. With the bulk of the Orobici’s possession transpiring within their defensive third and amid the Friulani peppering the penalty area, it incredibly took until just past the hour mark for Gelson Fernandes to fashion a genuine chance for the hosts. Andrea Consigli was then on hand to save his side in injury time from Antonio Di Natale’s wonderful volley.
Udinese trudged off dumbfounded as to how their 20 shots could lead to so little. The stalemate, coupled with Lazio’s Derby delight, means the capital club lead their northern counterparts by two points in the race for the final Champions League position. The Romans have had their share of difficulties lately on and off the pitch, but whilst Udinese have experienced none of the problems and drawn-out sagas Lazio endured, their own inconsistencies have kept the Biancocelesti in the hunt.
Guidolin’s claim Udinese lacked sharpness versus Atalanta is a statement which can sum up 2012. The Bianconeri have not enjoyed back-to-back wins since last December and their seemingly unrivaled home form has taken a hit. Whereas Juventus were the only side to take points from the Stadio Friuli in the opening half of the campaign, Milan, Cagliari and Atalanta have gone home with something from the last three encounters.
The three fixtures saw three alarming occurrences. Firstly, Udinese controlled their contest with Milan but did not reap the rewards, amazingly coughing up two late goals. With the latter duo prepared to sit back Udinese found it difficult to fashion space so crucial to their style. They lacked inspiration against Cagliari without the mercurial Di Natale and a clinical edge versus Atalanta, a problem Guidolin highlighted after the loss to Fiorentina in February. Udinese’s only win in the past five – away at Bologna – saw them at their devastating best, converting a third of their shots on goal and using the counter-attack to great effect.
Guidolin also felt his side was affected by the international fixtures last Wednesday. Attempting to balance a relatively small playing group – only 18 players have made more than five appearances – through injury, suspension, European competition and international call-ups, the Coach needs his best XI on the pitch regularly. Mauricio Isla’s season-ending injury robs Udinese of hard-running off the ball and smooth work on it, both out wide and in central midfield. The African Cup of Nations robbed Udinese of key players Mehdi Benatia and Kwadwo Asamoah during January, the start of their stuttering run.
Yet despite these issues, Udinese are still in contention to remarkably better last season’s finish. Their home record – 10 wins, three draws, one loss and seven goals conceded – is still Serie A’s best and Di Natale is ever-lethal in front of goal, failing to score just twice in his last 10 appearances. January signings Michele Pazienza and Fernandes have added steel and tactical flexibility in midfield, whilst Benatia is once more showing his worth at the heart of the Zebrette defence.
Guidolin tends to profess caution in attributing season goals, telling the Gazzetta dello Sport in October when leading the competition that “in our changing room, we have a big sign that says our season’s aim and that is to collect 40 points in order to defend our Serie A status,” but with that mark passed and only 12 matches remaining surely he can hear the Champions League anthem playing in the distance. The battle for third will be closely fought, but by rediscovering their strong home form, Udinese will give themselves the best chance possible.