Udinese must end pitiful Serie A losing streak
There are some pretty unusual Serie A contests this season. Separated by only four points, Juventus and Napoli seem poised to take the Scudetto to the wires. Just beneath, however, Lazio, AS Roma, Inter and AC Milan, is sweating over continental slots. On the flip side, survival is stiffer. Besides Benevento, all but certain to go down, nine teams, 11 through 19, aren’t safe yet. On a nine-game losing streak, it could just be Udinese Calcio accompanying the Witches.
The campaign began far too early for Udinese. Having finished 13th place last term, several new faces were expected to push for a spot in Europe. Luigi Delneri had to deal with the division's thinnest squad. The Pozzo family club's weak financial muscles meant nothing much could be done. They heavily rely on bargains. Six moved to Udine. All for a meagre combined fee just a little above Neymar’s reported two months income.
No surprises, though, how things panned out for the club from the start. One good result marred by a string of appaling ones. A victory over newly-promoted Frosinone was never an achievement albeit striving to do so. Another hard-fought win followed on the back of successive defeats to Chievo and SPAL. Then they crashed to AC Milan, Torino and AS Roma before picking precious maximum points against Sampdoria. Just then, Delneri men succumbed to yet another back-to-back defeats; Juventus and Fiorentina.
As customary, Bianconeri Friuliani picked up the pieces at Sassulo, conveying the same momentum back home to Atlanta's detriment. But each time they made giant strides, two steps were taken in reverse order. A shocking debacle at home to Cagliari cost Delneri his job. At this point, Udinese was only three points adrift of safety, having garnered a dozen from corresponding matches. Twenty-one-years younger, Massimo Oddo was handed the baton.
Oddo instantly transformed the Little Zebras into fearless predators. He brought along consistency, fluidity and courage. A minor blip to Napoli was succeeded by four massive triumphs on the bounce. Perugia. Crotone. Benevento. Inter. All had a feel of his venom. The victory at San Siro particularly stood out, as Luciana Spalleti's team were undefeated up until that point.
Yet the 41-year-old didn’t rest on his laurels. He took subsequent games as cup finals. The next five were utterly blissful as they remained unbeaten. That’s nine without defeat. Rather than survival, the Pozo family were suddenly fantasising about Europe. Indeed, their team was displaying all traits of a top side.
However, the year's turn came with some bad fortune to Dacia Arena. Udinese has amassed one win from 14 games. They’ve lost nine in a row. No team in Europe’s top five leagues matches is enduring such pathetic slump, not even bottom Benevento. Oddo's swagger and mastery gradually diminishing, replaced with youthful greenness.
Sunday’s charity shirt show-off couldn't take away the impending crisis on the ground. Each player who started against Lazio donned different jerseys from 11 different seasons. Despite taking an early lead through Kevin Lasagna, the Romans pegged back to win thanks to Ciro Immobile and Luis Alberto. Although currently ranked 13th, six points adrift of the drop, the Pozzo family will be worried. Especially with difficult ties against Napoli and Inter, as well as tricky trips to Verona, Benevento and Cagliari in the coming weeks. Oddo must act fast.