Udinese travel to Glasgow to face Celtic on Thursday with only one
recognised striker in the squad. Club legend Di Natale was left behind in
Udine, along with cup-tied €7m summer signing Gabriel Torje, and
influential defender Mauricio Domizzi. This paves the way for Italian
Under-21 International Diego Fabbrini and/or 17 year old rookie Davide Marsura, while Sky Sports are reporting at the time of writing that midfielder Almen Abdi will be asked to lead the line.
Whether Francesco Guidolin continues with his favoured, exotic (at least to
Scottish fans) 3-5-1-1 formation remains to be seen. The Friulani have for
the past five games consistently fielded this formation, rotating few
individuals. Against Arsenal however in the Champions League qualifiers, a
more cautious 4-5-1 was utilised and given Celtic Park will be seen as a
challenging environment, perhaps Guidolin will revert to this more
A further complication is how crucial Torje and Di Natale are to the
3-5-1-1. The young Romanian is played just off “Totó” using his ferocious
pace and trickery to complement the less mobile, 34 year old Di Natale.
It’s a combustable partnership – with the Captain often vocally (and
cruelly) unsatisfied with the Torje’s over-eager decision making. Yet the
chemistry has ignited Udinese’ season, with Di Natale’s goals propelling
the side to the top (jointly) of Serie A.
Below is a small slideshow of Udinese’ past 3 matches and the formation in each.
Restructuring from previous season
Very much like Atletico Madrid, the summer of 2011 saw Udinese cash in on a number of key players – acquired for very little but sold for massive profit. Out went Alex Sanchez, Simone Pepe, Gokhan Inler and Cristian Zapata, combined with a few other departures the total sum generated came to a staggering €64m – an incomprehensible figure for SPL based fans.
As outlined in The Swiss Ramble blog, Udinese aimed to continue the “buy low – sell high” policy and negotiated some shrewd replacements. The new crop of youngsters; the Brazilian Neuton, Frenchman Abdoul Sissoko, Argentinian Roberto Pereyea, Thierry Doubai from the Ivory Coast and Romanian Torje are typical of Udinese’ world-wide net.
But it also suggests a team that’s work in progress, albeit the predicted strategy is not.
Udinese boasted one of the best three-man defences in Europe last season, helping them achieve fourth spot in Serie A. While the losses of key players is obviously going to have it’s impact, the system still has it’s inherent strengths.
As per Rinus Michels’ theory that you should always have one more defender than the opposition has attackers, the tough three centre-backs will outnumber Celtic’s possible two forwards. But Guidolin’s unique 5/6 man midfield is also crucial.
In possession, if the wing-backs are allowed to attack relatively unchallenged (say, against a narrow 4-4-2 diamond) they can actually get as far up the pitch as the forwards themselves – making for an approximate 3-3-4 formation.
In defence, the wing-backs can join the back-line to make a busy 5, and the player behind the striker (normally Torje) drops back into midfield – perhaps making a 5-1-3-1 or a 3-6-1 diamond.
So in theory the system can swing from an ultra-attacking 3-3-4 to an ultra-defensive 5-1-3-1 – a perfect recipe for counter-attacking football.
Broadly speaking, one of the best hard-counters of the 3-5-2 is the 4-3-3 – and Celtic’s preferred lop-sided 4-4-2 formation can arguably be considered 4-3-3. The key battle therefore will be how Celtic’s widest forwards (possibly James Forrest on the right and Anthony Stokes or Georgios Samaras fleeting towards the left) contend with Udinese’ wing-backs – or at least the space behind the wing-backs.
Players to watch
Without the two current stars Di Natale and Torje, Fabbrini as mentioned will lead the line. (Perhaps optimistically) described by fans as ‘the new Kaka’, he certainly exhibits a similar physical appearance and the same direct running and finesse – but has a long way to go to be considered in Kaka’s league.
If anyone could claim to be Udinese’ next cash-cow, Slovenian ‘keeper Samir Handanović surely holds the best claim. Signed back in 2004, he grabbed attention at the 2010 World Cup, putting in a handful of great performances. Linked with numerous top clubs, he recently signed a new 5-year contract, and even at the age of 27 (approaching prime for a goalkeeper) his potential sale value to an elite club will be significant.
Much also hangs on the performances of the wing-backs, if Guidolin does go ahead with the 3-5-1-1 formation. The first-choices on either flank would normally be Pablo Armero and Isla on the left and right respectively, but Giovanni Pasquale and Dusan Basta on the fringes, might be given a chance.