P: 14th (W10 D10 L18 GF42 GA58 Pts40)
Coppa Italia: Fourth Round Team rating: 5/10 Top scorer: Rodrigo De Paul (9) Europe: N/A
Udinese used to be ambitious, even qualifying for the Champions League; now the focus is on staying up and selling players at a profit. Michelle Osei Bonsu reflects on another year at the Dacia Arena…
Once upon a time, Udinese were the proverbial Little Engine That Could. Or, perhaps, they could be better described as a minnow successfully swimming amongst a sea of sharks. At the turn of the 21st century, it was not uncommon to find the Zebrette, spearheaded by club icon Antonio “Toto” Di Natale and full of a crop of young, hungry stars, regularly challenging Italy’s bigger sides for a European football berth, whether it be in the Champions League or the Europa League.
Unfortunately, those days are long gone, and now, Udinese’s main focus seems to be largely making sure they secure their top-flight status for each upcoming season. This year was relatively mild compared to prior terms, which saw the team go through several coaches before the season came to its conclusion. However, this time around, Luca Gotti, who came in as an interim coach in November 2019 following Igor Tudor’s sacking, maintained his position on the tactician’s bench for the entirety of the 2020-2021 campaign.
Despite a horrible start in which they lost their first three games without scoring a single goal, and won just one of their opening quintet of fixtures, Udinese did manage to find some form at various points this season. The first burst of positive activity saw the Zebrette string together a six-match unbeaten run, including an impressive 3-1 win over Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico.
Whilst that progress was quickly undone with a series of defeats, including to now-relegated Benevento, Udinese did bounce back to again put together a few solid results. That included keeping high-scoring Atalanta at bay, and impressively containing both Inter and Milan; in all three instances, the Zebrette were successful in picking up a point.
Home provided little respite for Udinese, where, interestingly enough, their record was slightly worse than in their travels. That being said, they did just enough to guarantee safety thanks to a combination of securing vital draws and, to some extent, the even more dismal performances of teams below them in the table. When one looks at the sheer number of goals Crotone and Parma conceded, Udinese’s performance looks quite rosy in comparison, and it’s even more impressive considering that their top goal-scorer, Rodrigo De Paul, is not among the top 10 scorers in the league.
However, given that their attack was rather anaemic this season – with only Parma and Benevento faring worse up front – one shouldn’t be too shocked to be hard-pressed to find a lack of Udinese players among the top overall scorers in the league. Besides, clearly, when the team is battling to stay afloat, scoring goals in buckets isn’t the number one priority. It’s simply to grab a point, hopefully three, wherever possible to get to that magical number of 40 that theoretically guarantees safety, and Udinese managed to do that with enough time to spare.
The coach – Luca Gotti
Luca Gotti clearly did enough to make sure his position on the tactician’s bench was secure throughout the course of this season. Udinese’s campaign has been one to forget – they got the job done but were quite fortunate that others did worse.
Otherwise, in other seasons, it’s very possible the Zebrette could have spent more time in the relegation battle than they have wanted. It will be interesting to see if Gotti remains with the club or attempts to seek employment elsewhere after this term.
Player of the Year – Rodrigo De Paul
Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s been Rodrigo De Paul. There may have been some concern after Kevin Lasagna, last season’s team top goalscorer, left on loan, but De Paul was one player that stood out in a team who otherwise really failed to set the pitch alight for much of this season.
However with a plethora of teams – both in Serie A and abroad – now linked with his signature, it’ll be interesting to see if Udinese will be able to hang on to him or if they’ll cash in on him if a good price comes through.
Defining moment – Nullifying the Nerazzurri
Holding Inter to a scoreless draw in January 2021. Whilst it may not look like much, Udinese are the only team who’ve managed to prevent Antonio Conte’s swashbuckling side from finding the back of the net in Serie A all season.
Did you know?
Udinese’s 2020-21 squad had the most different nationalities represented of any Serie A team. The Zebrette had players from 23 countries, one more than Lazio and Parma.