Francesco Guidolin can no longer recognize his own team. “I am sure this cannot be the real Udinese,” the 57 year old coach told the team’s official website after a 3-0 loss to Lazio this past Tuesday. “We need to find the lost track.”
And he is right. With the amount of players out on loan, and out injured, it is hard to identify the current squad. Even with the cartoonish red lettering on the back of their shirts, the team is not who they use to be.
The Friulano paper Messenger Veneto echoed Guidolin’s concerns, stating the team was “unrecognizable,” and claiming “Udinese hoisted the white flag” in the Italian capital.
However, recognizable or not, there should be no excuse for the embarrassment of the match against Lazio. Prior to the game the Zebrette were on a 6-match undefeated streak. Having just crashed out of the Europa League, it was assumed Udinese would return to Italy focused and determined to make their way up the table, back into one of the qualifying spots they have grown accustom to over the last couple years.
On paper, their season has not been too terrible. With only four losses—to Fiorentina, Juventus, Napoli, and now Lazio—the Friulano side have played some spectacular games, including a late, 3-2 win over Roma, in Rome. That said, it has not been enough to make them Italian contenders; with only three wins and seven draws, it will be hard for a late season catch-up.
And what Udinese are lacking in points, they also lack in playable players. Their current injury roster includes: Paulo Barreto, Mehdi Benatia, Dusan Basta, Diego Fabbrini, Andrea Lazzari, Luis Muriel, and Giampiero Pinzi. The team has been run thin and it is becoming painfully obvious.
It is also clear that confidence is down. Recently a poll on Tutto Mercato Web asked readers to vote for the “strongest goalkeeper in the league.” Former Udinese keeper Samir Handanovic, now at Inter, came in first with 32.08 per cent of the vote, while his successor, current Udinese keeper Zeljko Brkic, came in dead last, with 1.14 per cent.
Which is a shame, because prior to the three goals conceded at Lazio, Brkic had made a save from a penalty kick.
To return to Guidolin’s quote, he is correct in stating that this is not the “real” Udinese. The “real” Udinese – or at least from most recent seasons – is a quick, fast, attacking team. Always one step ahead of their opponent, Udinese used to be fun to watch.
Now they are slow, defensive, and worse of all, scared. Once living up to their namesake—running the pitch like spritely zebras—they now resemble an old horse being put out to pasture. Or, if Tuesday’s game was any indication, awaiting the glue factory.
What the team needs is to find its confidence and find it fast. With a busy schedule coming up over the next three weeks, Udinese are playing five different teams in three different competitions. Meeting Cagliari, Sampdoria and Palermo for regular Serie A matches, Udinese also host Liverpool for their final Europa League match. On top of that, they face Fiorentina in the fifth round of the Coppa Italia.
The good news is Udinese does not have time to sit around feeling sorry for themselves. The bad news is more games will take a toll on the current squad. Guidolin will have his work cut out for him to keep his team healthy on the pitch, and the Friulanos happy in the stands.