The top of the Serie A table reveals usual suspects Juventus and Milan amongst the leading pack and yet there are two clubs sticking close by, refusing to let the historical giants have it all their own way. Ahead of their clash this weekend at the Stadio Olimpico, Lazio and Udinese fans will hope their side builds from this positive start.
Lazio was last season pipped to a Champions League position by the Zebrette, but their transfer work suggests the capital club is serious about qualifying for the competition. They lost Fernando Muslera and Stephan Lichtsteiner but have built upon their core group and strengthened the squad with important signings such as Federico Marchetti, Abdoulay Konko and Miroslav Klose.
I Biancocelesti showed their intent on the opening day of the season by taking a point from the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza against Milan and returned to the winners list in the Derby della Capitale after five straight losses. Even when not at their best, as occurred against Lecce on Saturday, they have found enough to overcome their opponent – the mark of a mature team.
After a summer in which Alexis Sanchez, Gokhan Inler and Cristian Zapata all departed the Stadio Friuli, Udinese was not expected to challenge. Talk so far this campaign, echoed by players and Coach alike, has surrounded the mythical 40 point objective sides aiming to avoid relegation strive to achieve. A draw in Milan, plus wins over Roma and Inter suggests greater potential.
Interestingly, Lazio’s form at home has paled in comparison to results away from the Olimpico. Five wins and two draws is the best away record in Serie A, while they’ve lost their only two matches at home and scored nearly double on their travels. Udinese’s record is quite the opposite – potent at home with seven wins (plus 14 goals scored and just two conceded), they struggle away. That recent win away against Inter, just their second, will add confidence.
Going into their showdown both sides have been impressive defensively. Udinese holds the best defensive record (seven goals conceded) and Lazio the third best (eleven). Part of the reason stems from the tacticians. Both Edy Reja and Francesco Guidolin are meticulous planners, the latter ensuring his side is more solid and compact compared to last season. They boast two of the league’s premier goalkeepers in Marchetti and Samir Handanovic. In a blow for the hosts, Marchetti will be missing through injury. Handanovic went on a five game unblemished streak at home earlier in the season and his reflexes plus command of the penalty area have alerted Europe’s big guns.
In front of the ‘keepers are two strong backlines; Lazio’s led by Andre Dias, while Mehdi Benatia and Danilo control the three-man Udinese defence.
At the other end of the pitch are two of Serie A’s most lethal marksmen. Antonio Di Natale can seemingly do no wrong in front of goal, scoring 67 goals in his last 84 league matches, with ten coming this season. Klose has stepped into a new league and is back to his potent best with eight strikes. The German has scored from all angles and in important fixtures too – against Milan, Fiorentina and Roma.
It looks set to be a fascinating encounter between two clubs continuing to battle the odds. Beside the quality they possess, both sides have exhibited a tremendous amount of resiliency to get to where they are, so do not expect the loser to fall away from the pack.