Udinese V Inter Milan
Kick-off: Sunday, 23rd January – 11:30 (GMT)
Sunday’s early encounter in Serie A – which some lucky folk can see LIVE on ESPN – pits two of the league’s in-form teams against each other, as Inter Milan take their second-half revival to the Stadio Fruili, home of a very dangerous Udinese side boasting a number of eye-catching positives which will seriously put Inter’s 100% start to life in 2011 under threat.
Whereas Udinese are reaping the rewards of their patience and faith in a manager which only took over the managerial reins in the summer – Francesco Guidolin beginning his tenure with four straight losses right at the very beginning of the season before eventually bringing the finer qualities out of his team, Inter president, Massimo Moratti, can be heard ringing out his own applause as his decision to replace Rafael Benitez with Leonardo appears to have worked wonders, and sparked the immediate turnaround in fortune the club were after following a disappointing half of the season under Rafa.
The less said about Rafael Benitez’s tenure as Inter Milan tactician the better, although the Spaniard left behind several worrying flaws in the Nerazzurri system that while Leonardo appears to have instantly found a resolution to some, does leave them exposed in such games as these.
One of the tasks Leo immediately got down to work on was the lack of attacking ambition from Inter, with former manager Benitez having drained all the confidence and belief out of a strike-force with so much quality, let alone potential. The Brazilian was an attack-minded player during his day so the fact he’s already installed some of his forward nous and vigour into his team isn’t a big surprise, though few envisaged we would see such vast amounts of improvement in such a short space of time.
So far, Leonardo has managed four games and in each Inter have expressed themselves in the final third more than they ever did under Benitez. The football has had that free-flowing feel to it, but more importantly the goals have come, and even more important has been the return of some entertainment. It was so often so methodical under Rafa, a manager with a renowned preference for tactics and his cautious attitude. The outcome has been wonderful, for all parties concerned; Moratti back owning a winning club, Inter back in the title race, Samuel Eto has benefited from this new leash of life in attack, while the fans are finally getting their money’s worth.
Since the start of the year, Inter haven’t looked back. A terrible end to 2010, where they suffered back-to-back away defeats and found themselves miles off the pace of their Milanese rivals AC, has been well and truly put to bed thanks to Leonardo and the influence he has had on the team. The Brazilian has guided the Nerazzurri to four straight wins under his stewardship, three of those coming in the league while the fourth was progress in the Coppa Italia. In all, Inter have won all five of their competitive matches in 2011, racking up a staggering 15 goals in the process. The only negative: the fact they’ve yet to keep a clean sheet this year, shipping a rather concerning seven in those same five games.
Few would dare argue that it has been Inter Milan’s year so far, Leonardo’s charges bursting onto the scene with a 100% start which has seen their deficit with AC Milan at the summit of Serie A pegged back to just six points, plus Inter boast a game in hand. Victory on Sunday would reduce AC’s lead further, though probably only for half-a-dozen hours seeing as their local rivals, AC Milan, face Cesena at home later that evening – a straightforward fixture on paper. But Leonardo’s men can ill-afford to even think about what’s going on elsewhere, particularly when they’re well aware that their impeccable record in 2011 will genuinely come under threat in Udine.
The hosts on Sunday have also made a similarly encouraging start to the year, opening with a three-match unbeaten run which includes two victories over Chievo Verona (2-0) and Genoa (2-4), as well as a spectacular 4-4 draw with AC Milan at the San Siro two weeks ago. The latter result proof if ever Inter needed some that this Udinese team cannot be taken lightly.
At home in particular is where the Bianconeri are at their most dangerous. Francesco Guidolin’s men have been unstoppable in their own backyard for some time now and while much of the focus and limelight will be on their visitors and their still new manager, Leonardo, the fact Udinese are defending their own equally impressive sequence of results, having won their last four Serie A matches at their Stadio Fruili, shouldn’t go unnoticed.
This Udinese team are very talented, all round the pitch, though especially up front. Antonio Di Natale has been the focal point up front for Guidolin’s team, the Italian international scoring his 14th of the term during his team’s impressive 4-2 victory in Genoa last week, while he’s also found his way onto the score-sheet in each of his last four starts at home. And at home is where their some of Udinese’s best stuff originates, registering wins over the likes of Palermo, Napoli and Fiorentina inside their Fruili stadium this season, while they haven’t exactly been shy in front of goal either – Just three teams have scored more league goals this season than the Bianconeri this season. However, what makes them most dangerous is the fact that defensively they remain sound – conceding just nine goals in eight home games – and shouldn’t be rolled over on Sunday, not even by an Inter Milan side currently on fire in front of goal.
On paper, this fixture would suggest something of a goal spectacle. Udinese have peaked at four goals in each of their last two league games, while they’ve scored at least twice in each of their last four clash at home. Inter meanwhile are averaging 3-goals-a-game in 2011, amassing 15 in just 5 competitive matches, 12 of those coming under Leonardo’s watch. Moreover, we’re about to see two of Serie A’s deadliest strikers in Antonio Di Natale, whom leads the way in the scoring charts with 14 goals, and Samuel Eto, the Cameroon international who is hot on the heels of the Udinese striker with 12 goals, though the former Barcelona hitman has 21 in 23 for the season, go head-to-head in a Serie A Golden Boot duel, the pair separated by just two strikes.
One factor which may restrict the flow of goals in this particular encounter will be the absences of Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito for Inter, two key players in the Inter Milan forward machinery. However, history between the two could also strangle some of the attacking life out of this latest tussle. The pair played out a thoroughly entertaining 3-2 thriller last season, Inter prevailing on that occasion, though there were more goals in last season’s fixture than there have been in the six previous meetings between the two, with the pair so often separated by the smallest of margins, if any.
Recent Head-to-Head in Serie A (At Udinese)
2009/2010: Udinese 2-3 Inter Milan
2008/2009: Udinese 0-1 Inter Milan
2007/2008: Udinese 0-0 Inter Milan
2006/2007: Udinese 0-0 Inter Milan
2005/2006: Udinese 0-1 Inter Milan
2004/2005: Udinese 1-1 Inter Milan
2003/2004: Udinese 0-0 Inter Milan
Betting Tip: Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet365
It is so easy to be drawn in by all the statistics. Inter having scored a rather unbelievable 15 in their last five matches, Udinese four in each of their last two Serie A games. The wealth of attacking talent is as well difficult to simply ignore and brush under the carpet. After all, we have two of the finest strikers in Italy going head-to-head tomorrow in Di Natale and Eto, who between them have 26 goals in Serie A this season.
Before making a decision, though, take into consideration the fact both managers will have so much respect for one another and their team. Udinese and Inter have been playing almost without fear of late, though neither will be taking either lightly on Sunday. Franscesco Guidolin will know Inter’s strengths and will be wary of them, as will Leonardo of Udinese’s. And if there’s too much respect on show then expect to see more cautious play from both sides than you’ve been used to seeing in recent weeks.
Furthermore, the history between the two would strongly suggest another tight encounter. The defences have often prevailed down the years and we see no reason why this particular meeting won’t differ. Inter’s back-line, while it may be without a clean sheet under Leonardo’s watch, is still one of the strongest in Europe, let alone Italy; Lucio, Cordoba, Chivu and Maicon are all household names. Meanwhile Udinese have managed to keep some serious forward prowess at arm’s length this season, restricting Palermo and Napoli – two of the highest scorers in Serie A, to just one goal-a-piece, and have conceded just nine in total at home this season.
A combination of mutual respect and two rock-solid defences makes, what I believe, the odds on Under 2.5 look glorious. The obvious is to back goals, as there is plenty background information available to suggest there should be plenty, but how often does the patently obvious come in? In my experience, it usually ends in tears.
Draw @ 3.30 VictorChandler
We do genuinely believe that there won’t be an awful lot between them come the final whistle; two very strong defences, Udinese with a remarkably strong record at home and Inter, while they are enjoying a hot streak at the moment, still a bit of an enigma away from home. Three of the previous seven encounters in Udine have finished all-square, while even if our worse nightmare does come to fruition, that this match does open up and turn into a goal frenzy, the team who does fall behind has enough about them from an attacking point of view to respond, and that’s always a reassuring feeling when you are on the draw.
Antonio Di Natale to Score @ 3.00 Unibet
I’ve backed him most weeks and I can only remember one occasion this season where he hasn’t delivered for me, so backing Antonio Di Natale is a no-brainer. The vastly-experienced Italian has scored in his each of his last four appearances at home, so clearly he feels comfortable and confident playing in front of his own fans, while he also scored the final goal of last season’s enthralling encounter, a match Inter won 3-2.
Incidentally, if you’re partial to some Samuel Eto, and why shouldn’t you be; after all, the Cameroon captain does have 21 goals in 23 appearances this season, 12 of those coming while in league action, then you can snap up the Inter Milan striker at 2.63 with Boylesports.
Last 5 Matches
Coppa Italia: Sampdoria 2-2 Inter Milan
Serie A: Genoa 2-4 Udinese
Serie A: AC Milan 4-4 Udinese
Serie A: Udinese 2-0 Chievo Verona
Serie A: Lazio 3-2 Udinese
Last 5 Matches at Home (Serie A ONLY)
Udinese 2-0 Chievo Verona
Udinese 2-1 Fiorentina
Udinese 3-1 Napoli
Udinese 1-1 Cagliari
2010/2011 Serie A Statistics
League Position: 8th
Win-Draw-Lose: 9-3-8 (Home: 6-1-2)
Goal Difference: 31-27 (Home: 15-9)
Top Scorer: Antonio Di Natale (14)
Last 5 Matches
Serie A: Inter Milan 3-2 Cesena
Serie A: Inter Milan 4-1 Bologna
Coppa Italia: Inter Milan 3-2 Genoa
Serie A: Catania 1-2 Inter Milan
Serie A: Inter Milan 3-1 Napoli
Last 5 Away Matches (Serie A ONLY)
Catania 1-2 Inter Milan
Lazio 2-1 Inter Milan
Chievo Verona 2-1 Inter Milan
Lecce 1-1 Inter Milan
Genoa 0-1 Inter Milan
2010/2011 Serie A Statistics
League Position: 4th
Win-Draw-Lose: 10-5-4 (Away: 4-2-3)
Goal Difference: 32-19 (Away: 9-9)
Top Scorer: Samuel Eto’o (12)
– The team from Udine haven’t tasted defeat on home soil in all competitions – nine matches – since they were whitewashed 4-0 by Juventus back on 19th September.
– Since losing to Juventus in September, Udinese have gone on two win six of their following seven matches in Serie A on home soil, and will host January’s in-form side Inter on the back of four consecutive home triumphs in the league; wins over Lecce (4-0), Napoli (3-1), Fiorentina (2-1) & Chievo (2-0) coming with an aggregate score of 11-2.
– Udinese have shown recently (9th Jan) they can mix it with the Milanese clubs, drawing 4-4 with AC Milan at the San Siro earlier in month, although were beaten 2-1 in the reverse encounter with the Nerazzurri.
– Antonio Di Natale leads the way in the Serie A scoring charts with 14, two in front of Inter’s Samuel Eto.
– Nine of Di Natale’s fourteen league goals this term have come at home, the Italian international scoring on each of his last four starts at Stadio Fruili.
– The Nerazzurri have made a blistering start to 2011, winning each of their five new year fixtures – 4 in Serie A & 1 in Coppa Italia – and are currently January’s in-form side in the Serie A.
– 2011 has also been a fruitful year so far for Inter in front of goal as well, Leonardo’s charges averaging 3 goals a game after netting 15 times in 5 games, though have conceded 7 for their attacking endeavour.
– Their 2-1 victory over Catania (9th Jan), in which Inter needed to come from behind, was their first away win in the league since 29th October – Losing two and drawing one of their previous three away contests beforehand.
– Inter have scored in each of their last six away league games, although on five of those occasions the Milanese outfit only scored one goal.
– Samuel Eto sits third in the Serie A scoring charts with 12 goals, two behind Udinese’s Antonio Di Natale.