Udinese will be our sixth game in 23 days and I dont know about you, but I am exhausted. I mean, if Cesena and Bologna were that much work (and they were) then how am I (or the squad) going to get through freakin' Udinese? Cripes. So ya, here we are, barley dragging through, daring to dream, and up we come smack against this giant, in form, wall from Friuli. Given the right attitude we can probably scale the wall, but no way is going to be easy. Oh ya, and did I mention? Milito is injured again. Cripes.
What: Udinese v Inter
Where: Stadio Fruili, Udine
When: Sunday, January 23, 12:30pm local time (3:30am pacific, 6:30 am eastern)
How to watch: Live on FoxSoccer.tv, ESPN3.com USA, Fox Soccer Plus, RAI, and Fox Sports World Canada or find a stream (MyP2P, Rojadirecta, Ustream, and ATDHE.net
Liveblog: Kirby says yes so be here 15 minutes before kickoff. Talk about your dedication.
Udinese is just one of those teams for Inter. The statistics dont really express how much trouble we seem to have with this team. Of the 38 Serie A games at the Fruili, Inter has won 15, drawn 14, and lost 9. Somehow, though, I have this idea of them being really really hard to beat. Maybe that is because the scorelines have been so tight: neither team has won by more than a goal since 2000 (and that year they beat us 3-0... twice!). Aside from our last outing, there was a long succession of 0-1, 0-0, and 1-1 games. Real grinds. Last year, things went a bit differently: after they went ahead in the opening minutes of the game, Inter promptly responded, pulling ahead until finally allowing them one back. It ended a nervy 2-3 thanks to goals from Balotelli, Milito, and Maicon.
Highlights (You will notice at the beginning half our central defenders and our coach sitting in the stands. Yep, TM was playing defense.):
Udinese have scored 10 goals in their last three games. Of course, they let in eight, but still, 10 goals is pretty good. They have 30 points which puts them in eighth place on the table. Which, considering they ended last season in 15th, is also pretty good. Udinese have only lost twice at home, and that was waaaay back at the beginning of the season when they were still working the kinks out. More recently, it has just been a steady stream of wins at home, including an impressive 3-1 beat down of Napoli.
Di Natale has a nice eagle tattoo.
Toto Di Natale (besides looking quite fetching in his Dolce and Gabbana undies) has 14 goals this season. Besides being Udinese's high scorer, he is also the league high scorer (although Eto'o is moving up that scale as well). Alexis Sanchez is another to watch out for, although he only has 5 goals (it is hard to compete with Toto). As an aside, word is that Branca has been trying every trick in his book to pry Sanchez out of Pozzo's grip - short of dropping huge sacks of cash that is - but to no avail yet. So I definitely think he is one to watch. Oh ya, and in the midfield they have Inler, someone Inter has been quietly interested in for a few seasons now. Yep, they have a pretty decent squad. Ugh. There only weak point may be they play a three-man defense, something Inter is pretty good a picking apart.
At least the weather has cleared up.
Leonardo has called up 21 players:
Goalkeepers: Castellazzi, Orlandoni, Gallinetta;
Defenders: Cordoba, Zanetti, Lucio, Maicon, Ranocchia, Materazzi, Chivu, Santon;
Midfielders: Stankovic, Thiago Motta, Mariga, Cambiasso, Obi, Coutinho, Nwankwo;
Strikers: Eto'o, Pandev, Biabiany.
Milito is out for a few days but is expected to be back for the crunch Juve/Roma games, as is Julio Cesar. Sneijder is a bit farther behind, I guess. Coutinho and Thiago Motta are back in the lineup, although I dont think Coutinho will see the pitch for more than a couple minutes, if at all. Maicon didn't train yesterday due to a touch of flu, but seems to be better now. At least Leonardo and the medical staff think he is. Oh ya, and no pesky maybe rules about Ranocchia. Whew.
So that leaves us with something that may look like this:
Maicon Cordoba/Ranocchia Lucio Chivu
Zanetti Cambiasso Thiago Motta
Dont forget, Stankovic and Chivu are a booking away from suspension and next up is Palermo (Napoli on Wednesday is a Coppa Italia game).
Leo is optimistic about Milito and his speedy return, saying:
"Of course, it's far from ideal him being out again, but I don't think this injury will be as bad for him as the others. It's a minor thing and in his mind he knows he's ok. He did well in the games he's played and he's clearly on the up. I think he'll be able to stay at the same level he's already reached. I expect he'll be able to increase his workload in a few days' time and he'll be available again soon."
Well, good. Because he was starting to show promising signs of last-year's form.
The rest of Leo's press conference was pretty typical: Leo humbly denied being Inter's savior saying the current winning streak is down to the players and the fact that they are generally less injured now. He also was quite good at deflecting any criticism off of Pandev and Biabiany, saying that any problems they have are really his fault for asking them to play tactically differently than in the past. He is sure, though, that they will find their feet in the new, Militoless system soon enough.I sure hope so because Roma has already won today, moving them to second. No points tomorrow - or one even - will, at the very least, see us stay at 6th, but more than likely, take us back down to 7th. Not fun. Realistically, we must assume that everyone else will win tomorrow (and they really should).
I wont lie, I am very nervous about this game. Di Natale and Sanchez are both talented goal scorers and we have been not so secure in our defense. I feel confident that we can create chances and score (we have 15 goals this month alone), but keeping whatever lead we may be lucky enough to produce has proven difficult (not a single clean sheet this month). Hopefully, the challenge of playing a team of Udinese's caliber will help keep the team on task and concentrated.
I will leave you all with Eto'o getting the obligatory lap dance on Chiambretti Nights: