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Andrew Murray On October - 22 - 2011

Next Up Novara As Zebrette Shine In Europa And Serie A

An interesting tie awaits at the Stadio Friuli on Saturday afternoon as Udinese play host to Novara. A quick glance at the table (Udinese are 2nd, Novara 16th) might suggest that this should be a routine victory for the home side but there are plenty of potential twists that could make the tie anything but straightforward.

Few expected Udinese to match last season’s outstanding 4th-place finish this time around but they’ve made an excellent start to the season. Losing players the calibre of Gokhan Inler, Christian Zapata and especially Alexis Sanchez should be a huge blow to any team but the Zebrette have responded superbly. New-boys Danilo and Gabriel Torje have shown already shown promise, while Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu has made Inler’s departure an easier pill to swallow with his combative midfield displays.

Udinese, like no other team, have an uncanny knack of unearthing gems in the transfer market. The strength of their scouting system is such that they’ve scarcely missed Sanchez and co. Of course it remains to be seen if the new signings can keep playing at such an invigorating pace for the rest of the season, but Zebrette tifosi can only be pleased with the start they’ve made.

Back in Serie A for the first time in 55 years, Novara have yet to disgrace themselves and should be pleased with the start they’ve made. The Biancoazzurri haven’t exactly set the world on fire but they’ve yet to be comprehensively beaten and even last week’s 2-0 home loss to Bologna was a statistically tight game.

Novara have collected 5 points from their 6 opening games, having lost to Bologna, Atalanta and higher-flyers Cagliari, drawn with Catania and Chievo and, most memorably, beaten Inter Milan 3-1 at the Piola. Only Napoli have scored as many goals (10) as the Biancoazzurri this season, but their defence has, predictably, been lacking, and they will need to tighten-up significantly to thwart Udinese’s quick attacks.

The attacking prowess of the Zebrette is well-documented, but they’ve also been brilliant defensively this season and have shipped just a solitary Serie A goal. Novara have thus far defied those who predicted they’d struggle for goals this year, but it’s difficult to see how they’re going to find the net against Udine. 6 of Novara’s goals came against a porous Inter defence and in a very open game against Catania, and just 2 of their 15 shots against Bologna were on-target. Takayuki Morimoto and Riccardo Meggiorini will need to sharpen-up to better Samir Handanovic.

The Friuli has been an ominous place to visit in Serie A this season. Udinese have won both of their home games thus far (posting 2-0′s over Fiorentina and Bologna) and their squad rotation policy should prevent Thursday’s Europa League tie with Atletico Madrid taking too big a toll. This, coupled with Novara’s leaky defence, should make for a walkover, but Udinese have only scored 1 second-half Serie A goal this season and Novara have scored 6 in the last 15 minutes. Don’t rule-out another late flourish from the Biancoazzurri.

All-in-all, a hard-fought clash that should see Udinese emerge victorious despite their visitors’ grinta. Novara won’t make it easy and will force plenty of shots, but they’ll need to significantly improve their cutting edge if they are to gain any points on Sunday.

Key Man (Udinese): Who else but Antonio Di Natale? The evergreen forward already has 5 goals in all competitions to his name this season and I wouldn’t bet on Novara being able to shackle him for long. Di Natale’s superior movement makes him one of the best centre forwards in the world even at 34, and the Zebrette’s dependance on him is obvious.

Key Man (Novara): Midfielder Marco Rigoni has adapted to Serie A well with a series of swashbuckling performances in Novara’s midfield. The fan favourite will need to be at his best on Sunday but Rigoni has already scored 3 goals and provided 2 assists this term. He is without question the most important player in Novara’s squad, and the battle between him and Badu will be tough.

Possible Line-ups

Udinese (3-5-1-1): Handanovic; Benatia, Danilo, Domizzi; Basta, Badu, Pinzi, Asamoah, Isla; Torje; Di Natale.

Novara (4-3-1-2): Ujkani; Morganella, Paci, Ludi, Gemiti; Porcari, Rigoni, Marianini; Pinardi; Morimoto, Meggiorini.

Andrew Murray

Scottish football writer with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for all things calcio. Visit for more from Andrew.

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