Mr. John is unfortunately way too slammed this week to conjure the Udinese preview, and since I owe you, what, 2 game recaps in the last 2 weeks, I figured I'd bundle some goodies into one bag. 'Tis the season!
To be frank, there wasn't all that much to recap about the Novara game. Except for maybe De Ceglie playing at left back (don't even remember the last time I typed those words), De Ceglie crossing and lodging an assist (I've definitely never typed those words), Del Piero not being able to score open sitters (he looked way too human), and Quagliarella scoring his first goal in Serie A after 364 days (Quagliarella, ela, ela, ela, eh, eh, eh)!! And what a beauty it was! The guy had no running momentum, he just planted his feet and jumped as high as he could, all the while winning a tough header and brilliantly directing the ball to the bottom far corner...ahh, Quaglia is back!
Dagnabbit, maybe there was a bunch to recap about the Novara game. Whichever the case, in just a few hours Juventus will begin the last game of 2011 against a nasty, top 4 opponent and that's pretty much all I can think about. Let's dive right in.
Le chiavi - Our defense, converting our chances, Udinese's counter attack, Toto Di Natale. Deny Toto space and close him down, and you've effectively reduced the chances of being scored on by a ton and a half. Also, the midfield. Since Guidolin usually plays with 3 defenders, Udinese always has an extra midfielder to crowd the middle, stretch the sides, or push up forward in (counter)attack.
Ever since Inler left, it seems as if Isla and Pinzi have been Udinese's most creative players. They are both certainly players to whom Conte should pay special attention.
If you haven't already heard, Udinese has not lost a point at home this season in Serie A. They have also only let in 2 goals during their home fixtures, which is wildly impressive.
Expect Udinese to play wide and move between the lines of our defense and midfield. Also, they do their trickiest work on the counter so it'll be good for us to have some fresh faces back.
Speaking of fresh faces, King Arturo and Bonucci are coming back in the lineup which should be a good refreshment for the side. Conte will most likely use Chiellini as a left back/center back combo and have Estigarribia roam down the left side in place of the injured Vucinic. Lichsteiner will resume his role as a wing back as he lets Barzagli, Boner, and Chiello form their little makeshift threesome.
Up front, Quagliarela will be rewarded for his come-back goal with a nice, cold seat on the bench as Matri starts alongside Pepe and the Paraguayan. It will be interesting to see how Matri copes against the very technical side from Friuli. I personally can't help but think that Quags or Del Piero are also necessary given Vucinic's absence, but I can understand if Quagliarella is feeling a bit tired after his first Serie A start this season against Novara.
Just for a second, imagine that this is the first week of Serie A and this was our first fixture. Scary stuff, right? Gotta say though, I feel a lot more comfortable with this game now than in late August. Yes, our players are getting tired after a frantically-paced first half of the season. Yes, this game is a huge threat to our undefeated record. Yes, Udinese's defence is the best in Serie A.
Yet I feel a sense of confidence. I think Udinese is the side that is scared of their opponent here, not the other way around. And we're coming for them.
My starting XI: (4-3-3) Gigi; Forrest, Gli, Kaiser, Pepinho; King Arturo, Malkovich, Overrated; BaloElia, Ma-ta-tri, Umbrella.
Probable: (4-3-3) Buffon, Lichsteiner, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Pepe, Matri, Estigarribia
My prediction: Udinese 1-2 Juventus