Today's Udinese preview comes from a slightly surprising source: Gianfranco Barbato, editor of AC Milan Offside, which will soon be part of the SB Nation network. He shows he's knowledgeable about more than the rossoneri with this look at the zebrette.
I have always looked at Udinese as the Arsenal of Serie A. Comprised mostly of young talent and complimented by a strong veteran core, Udinese has some of the best scouting and plays some of the most entertaining football in all of Italy. Like Arsenal they never spend big, and the dynamic duo of the shrewd owner Giampaolo Pozzo, and the master tactician Francesco Guidolin are always able to recognize new talent and integrate them into the squad. What they share in positives with Arsenal they also share in negatives, and their lack of experience sometimes shows on the pitch as they are not always as consistent as their talent should be, and because they operate on a shoe string budget they often have to sell to keep the Udinese machine running at full force.
This season was no different, despite qualifying for Champions League football, and playing none other than the aforementioned Arsenal in the qualifying round, Udinese was forced to sell some key pieces. This move was not exactly met with praise by fans of the Club and Serie A, wondering why a team with such potential would sell at this pivotal moment, but such is life for a small provincial Club. It would appear belief in the system that Udinese has created is far superior to belief in a single player, a formula that if successful may give hope to smaller Clubs across Europe.
Alexi Sanchez: the energetic forward/winger was chased by many Clubs, but finally landed in Barcelona. I guess better at the Camp Nou then with Inter Milan, but his loss will prove pivotal as he was one of Serie A's best last season.
Gokhan Inler: the winger was sold to direct rivals Napoli, which is never a good piece of business, but the money was right and it appears Guidolin was happy with the success of a player like Pablo Armero and willing to give him the reins on the left side.
Cristian Zapata: the most difficult loss to contend with, as Zapata was a stalwart in defense. One of the most underrated defenders in Serie A; he makes Villareal's back line instantly better. What Udinese loses in the back though is a field marshal comfortable playing in a three man defense, centrally in a four man defense, or on the wing in a back four. At 18M Euros his value was justified, but Udinese will struggle to replace such a key component.
Diego Fabbrini: co-owned with Empoli the twenty one year old attacking midfielder is a promising prospect for both Udinese and Italy. He can play both behind and off a striker and if he can work his way into the first team will surely assert himself in hopes of realizing his potential.
Danilo Larangera: seen as the heir apparent to Zapata, the twenty seven year old Brazilian can play in a three man back line or a four man defense. It will take some time for him to adjust to playing defense in Serie A but his skill set is strong enough to slot him into the first team.
Abdou Sissoko: younger brother of Momo Sissoko, his work in the preseason will determine if he stays with the Club or is loaned out to further develop. A smart low risk buy for Udinese and one that could provide dividends in terms of depth for a player like Giampiero Pinzi in central midfield.
Thierry Doubai: twenty three year old Ivorian midfielder was purchased from Young Boys and can play almost any role in the central midfield. Another low risk high reward move, for a player hoping to return to his National team after his only cap in 2008, something that will surely please the Club as Doubai will work hard to earn his next cap.
What to Expect from 2011-2012
One thing is certain every time Udinese steps on the pitch they will do their best to play an entertaining style of football that is tactically diverse and fun to watch. A repeat of last season would be a hope for everyone, but the turnover in personnel may make that impossible. If anything it will be exciting to see the new players slotted into their roles and if they can overcome Arsenal in the second leg of the qualifying round at home, Udinese fans may have something to cheer for in terms of Champions League football.
Potential Breakout Star
Midfielders Armero and Kwadwo Asamoah are poised to have breakout seasons. Asamoah had an excellent World Cup last year and he carried his form into the Serie A season. Tracked by Clubs like AC Milan you can see why, a pure box to box midfielder who is adept at attacking and just as bullish in defense. A complete player in every sense of the word he should be crucial to any success Udinese have this season.
As for Armero, he is lighting fast, and a player who started to come on strong at the end of last season. A winger type who is comfortable on the ball, but balanced enough to be successful in Guidolin's wide formation, you can see why Inler and Sanchez were good sales because there is talent behind them on the depth chart. Armero will be a handful for slower full backs, and he gives the pace and width needed to make Udinese dangerous.
There is no player more crucial to his Club than Antonio Di Natale. One of Italy's most consistent goal scorers over the past five years and Club captain, when he is on his game he can score goals in bunches. A workhorse striker, he is just as dangerous on the ball as he is off it. Udinese need his goals now more than ever with departure of Sanchez and he will always bring his A-game for the Club. His love for the Club is so strong that he refused to leave despite offers from clubs such as Juventus. Players like him are becoming a rarity in the modern game, and he is key to the success of his Club and a hero to all the fans.
When you run a team like Pozzo, success has an ebb and flow feel. Sell off some pieces; buy the right players and sometimes things just click. In the same sense it may take some time for the new team to gel and success for Udinese often comes after a year or two. It will be difficult for them to repeat the success of last season, but no reason why a team with this much talent and ability to play some pretty football can't be certain of a place in European football, even if it is just the Europa League.