Two teams in search of an identity will cross paths this Sunday as Catania travels North to challenge Udinese. The teams share an uncanny parallel – they both confronted Parma and Sampdoria in their first league games. Both teams fell to the magic of Antonio Cassano’s Dorian army, and both scraped some rather fuzzy results with Parma, disallowing for conclusive statements on the form and ambitions of the two teams. Now face-to-face, the squads will be looking not so much (or at least not only) for the three points, but for an answer to the question ‘Who are we?’ Udinese used to be hanging out with the big boys in the golden age of Antonio Di Natale, even putting up a fight for Champions League qualification, but they have come down with the speed of a polar bear on a water-slide since then. If they wish to affirm themselves as a team comfortably deserving of the mid-upper echelons, then beating Catania at home is a must. The Sicilian team, on the other hand, still subsists in the shadow of their blood-relatives Palermo (‘blood-relatives’ refers to the riots at the derby which slaughtered policeman Filippo Raciti, not to their co-citizenship). Putting up a good show against Udinese would be an important reminder – to themselves more than anyone else – that they are not out of their depth in the upper league.
Udinese – Udinese is a team so offensive that one wonders if they should not be coached by José Mourinho. Their current manager, Pasquale Marino, will be up against the ghosts of his past as he meets Catania, a team which was dragged up into Serie A under his own leadership. His offensive style should find itself at home against the Sicilians, all the more so because the man has great familiarity with his ex-squad and he should know their weaknesses. If this is the case, however, he should also remember to keep a close watch on his defence (one of Marino’s most important shortcomings so far). Forwards Di Natale, Antonio Floro Flores and Simone Pepe can be trusted to provide enough creativity to stab the modest Catania back-line, especially when supported by Gaetano D’Agostino in the midfield – they all feature in the national squad except for Floro Flores after all, although that says more about the amounts of medication that Marcello Lippi is taking than it does about their quality. Yet central defenders Felipe and Cristian Zapata have shown some difficulties in working organically with the midfield, and they risk not being enough to contain the often underestimated Catania attack. Either Marino is in for a good day, or goalkeeper Samir Handanovic may suffer a wild night.
15 Isla – 2 Zapata – 19 Felipe – 24 Lukovic
84 Lodi – 21 D’Agostino – 14 Sammarco
7 Pepe – 10 Di Natale – 83 Floro Flores
Catania – Gianluca Atzori has an interesting strategic problem ahead of him. He faces a team with strong offensive potential and has at hand a defence with more holes than a colander – no team that starts with a 19-year-old like Giuseppe Bellusci in central defence can face Udinese with confidence, especially not when their keeper Mario Andujar is at his first year in Italian football. However, Atzori also possesses an attack of his own which is reliable and supported by a surprisingly solid midfield, and his rival team suffer from serious defensive uncertainties. Catania striker Takayuki Morimoto is small but has a surprising eye for the goal when it comes to close confrontations in the box. If he is properly supported by the Double Pablo (wingmen Pablo Ledesma and Pablo Barrientos, respectively the heart and brain of the team), then he can cause real damage. Unfortunately, unleashing the Double Pablo into offensive runs means leaving plenty of open flanks for Di Natale and Pepe to bite. A careful balancing of defensive and offensive duties will be key to the success of the midfield and, ultimately, to the performance of the team on Sunday.
2 Potenza – 6 Silvestre – 3 Spolli – 33 Capuano
4 Delvecchio – 5 Carboni – 24 Pesce
19 Ricchiuti – 7 Mascara – 15 Morimoto
Beyond the obvious statement that Udinese walk into this game as favourites (in terms of the quality in their squad as well as their home-support), the match is a very difficult one to predict. There are so many uncertainties, phantom players and ghosts from people’s pasts that a minor shock in the opening phases of the game may be enough to upset any plan the Coaches may have made. If Catania were to take a lead within the first 25 minutes, for example, or if one of Udinese’s men were lost to injury or red cards, the match could take almost any direction from there on out. Catania do have some trouble when playing away from Sicily, enough to make their predicted outcome a sonorous defeat, so they will have to hope for some irregularity to take place if they want to walk home with a positive result. However, no team is more fitting to provide irregularity right now than Udinese, who currently do not even know what half of the table they legitimately belong to. As the proverb goes, the Chinese symbol for crisis is the same as the one for opportunity. Morimoto is Japanese, not Chinese, but he will look forward to exploiting the Udinese crisis of identity nonetheless. Let’s see if he is given half the chance.