The Zebras will be looking to improve on last season’s 13th-place finish and break in to the top half, writes Peter Fernie
The 2016-17 season was underwhelming for Udinese. Luigi Del Neri’s side were organised and hard-working throughout, but a shortage of creativity and goals kept them anchored in the bottom half of the table. As the campaign ended, on loan Colombian striker Duvan Zapata returned to his parent club Napoli, leaving the Friuli side further shorn of attacking edge. However, the ever-prepared North-East club look to have adjusted in characteristically efficient style without breaking the bank.
The close season brought a change of sporting director, as Nereo Bonato departed the club. His replacement Manuel Gerolin was appointed on a one-year deal. Gerolin is hugely experienced, having previously worked with Siena, Cremonese, Wolfsburg and Palermo. Indeed, the Venezia-born talent spotter is no stranger to plying his trade in Udine, having had two previous spells at the club as both a player and scout.
He has wasted little time in his new role, looking to fulfil the specific requests made by Coach Del Neri. Promising left back Giuseppe Pezzella has been signed from Palermo, while imposing Dutch stopper Bram Nuytinck was recruited from Anderlecht for €2.5m. Up front Del Neri was desperate to add an old fashioned No 9 to his roster and Gerolin looks to have found a shrewd solution.
Forced to look elsewhere following a long and fruitless negotiation for Napoli striker Leonardo Pavoletti, Udinese signed young Bosnian Riad Bajic from Konyaspor. Bajic struck 17 times in 32 games last season and finished fourth top scorer in the Turkish Super League. Further strengthening the attack is Kevin Lasagna, who already impressed in Serie A for Carpi. Del Neri has also made his desire for a winger clear to Gerolin, so the summer Mercato may yet bring further arrivals to the Dacia Arena.
The pre-season retreat has brought a quietly optimistic reaction from the local Press. The organisation and efficiency without the ball has been noted in their friendlies thus far, but with the caveat that much work lies ahead in the offensive phase.
The veteran Coach has long favoured a 4-4-2 formation, but has given signs in pre-season that perhaps more flexibility can be expected. While maintaining that the use of a four-man defence is a certainty, he has stated no other definitive decisions have yet been taken on team shape.
In terms of departures, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu has moved on loan to Bursaspor. With academy starlet Simone Scuffet set to start the season in goal, a midfield duo of Seko Fofana and Andrija Balic at 22 and 19 respectively and Bajic added to the attack, there is an exciting sprinkling of young talent in this Udinese squad. Furthermore, with proven performers such as Danilo, Rodrigo De Paul and Cyril Thereau to support them, no side will be able to take Del Neri’s boys lightly.
The Friulani start the campaign with the same Coach, a settled defensive shape and the addition of exciting attacking options. Rodrigo Paul and Balic have the ability to unlock defences, while Lasagna and Bajic should ease the goal-scoring burden on Thereau. Udinese look to have a balanced squad and anything less than a top 10 finish will be a disappointment.
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