Two teams badly in need of three points meet at the Stadio Communale Friuli when Udinese host AC Milan (2pm BST, Sunday, Sept 23).
Both sides have made a poor start to the campaign, with Udinese gaining just one point from their first three fixtures, while Milan have managed just three, despite playing two of their matches at home.
Udinese’s primary problem has been conceding goals, with eight let in already this season. For Milan scoring has been the issue, with the Rossoneri failing to find the back of the net in three of their four matches in all competitions.
These two teams finished second and third in Serie A last season, but both have commenced the season in a manner that suggests they will struggle to replicate those positions this time around.
For Udinese, such early season worries are nothing new. If anything they are an expected consequence of the business model put in place by their owners, the Pozzo family. Their well-rehearsed strategy is to buy players young and cheap, develop them, put them in the shop window and then sell at great profit.
This summer saw the departures of Mauricio Isla and Kwando Asamoah, two energetic midfielders who provided the large majority of the team’s drive last season, and the razor-sharp reactions of goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. The season before Alexis Sanchez, Goklan Inler and Cristian Zapata left the club.
This constant turnover of players inevitably means that it often takes a few months for the new squad to gel at the start of each season. But, even by those standards, Udinese have begun the 2012/13 season wretchedly, with none of a trio of Brazilians – Allan, Maicosuel and Willians – proving able deputies for the pace, power and passing ability of Asamoah.
The first-choice back three is the same as it was for much of last season, when Udinese had the third best defensive record in the league. However, ill-discipline, that has twice seen Udinese reduced to ten men, and the departure of Handanovic have contributed to an inferior defensive record this time around.
While Udinese are used to dealing with an exodus of their best players each summer, AC Milan are less accustomed to such a practice. That made the big-money summer exits of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to the nouveau-rich Paris Saint-Germain all the more galling for the club’s supporters.
The Milan side that won the Serie A title in 2010/11 and finished second last season relied on these two players to a large extent. Silva marshalled the defence in a calm, assured manner and Ibrahimovic acted as a creative battering ram up front – tall, strong and able to produce moments of magic that were often the difference between one point and three.
Ibrahimovic was usually shadowed by the inventiveness of Antonio Cassano or Robinho, but otherwise the team constructed by coach Massimiliano Allegri was workmanlike, disciplined and efficient. With Ibrahimovic and Cassano gone, and Robinho currently injured, Milan have looked a very stodgy side, bereft of imagination or incisiveness.
The result has been a distinct lack of goal threat, displayed once more in their turgid 0-0 draw at home to Anderlecht in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Ibrahimovic’s replacement Giampaolo Pazzini is a competent enough striker – as his hat-trick in the 3-1 away win over Bologna showed – but he is far more reliant on good service than the Swede. On Tuesday, the midfield five behind him of Nigel De Jong, Mathieu Flamini, Antonio Nocerino, Kevin Prince Boateng and Urby Emanuelson were never likely to provide that.
Perhaps the imminent return from injury of Robinho and Alexandre Pato, and regular inclusion of deep-lying playmaker Riccardo Montolivo will spark this team into life, but at the moment Milan are a poor imitation of a top side who look ill-positioned to mount a title challenge.
Udinese vs Milan Betting Tips Verdict
There is currently little particularly inspiring about either of these sides and in many ways it is quite difficult to predict how Sunday’s match will pan out. Both of them could do with the three points, but if Udinese can keep their discipline we feel it is more likely that the spoils will be shared in a very tight encounter.
- Back the draw @ best odds of 12/5 with Bet365.
- Bet on there being under 2.5 goals @ 4/5 with BetVictor.