Despite mutterings from some quarters, criticising Francesco Guidolin for putting out a weakened side in the Europa League, his team continue to pick up points in all competitions and still remain undefeated.
As the Coach rested the likes of Maurizio Domizzi and Antonio Di Natale in the away draw with Celtic, it was suggested that this attitude towards European competition is what is making Italy become a second rate nation in European club football.
However, Guidolin’s results and the fact that they still top their Europa League group will go some way to silencing his critics.
The weekend draw against Cagliari, in all honesty a dire encounter, was proof enough that Udinese needed to give some of its first team players a rest. The league is the priority, but as Guidolin rightly said, fans complain that young players are never given opportunities, so he would be using the game at Celtic Park to do just that.
Exciting talents such as Diego Fabbrini, Brazilian defender Neuton and argentine midfield man Christian Battocchio were all given a starting shirt on Thursday night and the creditable draw has substantiated the Zebrette tactician’s decision to play what effectively was his B team.
As he explained to journalists in the lead up to the match in Scotland, “We are not showing a lack of respect towards this competition. We have played 5 games in 14 days and it’s impossible to always be at our best. I am proud to be able to pick these youngsters to play at such a prestigious venue, with the result and moreover the performance, confirming that we have done the right thing. For those players, this match was worth a hundred training sessions.”
However, one player is proving himself to be completely untouchable, even when squad rotation is necessary, goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. The Slovenian custodian was once again one of the team’s star performers and his heroics ensured that Udinese took home a well earned point from Celtic.
Deep in stoppages, his save from a Charlie Mulgrew free kick further enhanced his reputation as one of the world’s best keepers in current circulation. He is one of the main reasons why the Bianconeri sit top of both Serie A and Group I of the Europa League. The worry for the fans must be that given his current form, he may well go the same way as Alexis Sanchez and Gokhan Inler come the end of the season. Should he leave, he may prove even more difficult to replace than their former Chilean playmaker.
This weekend, the Friulani will host a struggling Bologna who have only managed one point from their first four games. Guidolin will be able to recall his captain Di Natale as well as the other first team players that were able to fully recharge themselves by remaining at home rather than travel to Glasgow in midweek.
Bologna coach Pier Paolo Bisoli has not been so lucky. With a long term injury to keeper Jean Francois Gillet and a misfiring forward line that has only managed two goals so far, the season has not been too kind to the former Cagliari boss. An ideal opportunity, one would think, for Udinese to continue their splendid start to this year’s campaign.
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