Udinese’s Cinderella era in Serie A has come to an end amidst a field that is more competitive than any in the post-Calciopoli era.
The Zebrette have found their way into Europe against all odds in each of the previous three seasons, snatching berths to the playoff round of the Champions League twice and earning the right to fight for a place in the Europa League group stage in the current campaign.
Yet despite appearing as a darling of the Italian top flight, the Friuli outfit have held somewhat of a dubious distinction due to poor performances in continental play that have harmed Serie A’s already-fragile UEFA country coefficient.
Much to the delight of the big boys of the division, many of whom splashed a fair amount of cash over the summer to bring in new talent, it appears the Udinese’s time is up, the perpetual underdog crushed under the weight of a task that has now become too tall.
In the glory years of fourth, third and fifth-place finishes for Udinese, the Friulani made a living taking points off of traditionally more powerful adversaries, making use of a fortress mentality at home and the magic of Antonio Di Natale to punch above their weight.
Yet, the 36-year-old, certainly in the twilight of the career, hasn’t been in the type of form he’s accustomed to with four goals in 13 appearances. An added point has been the departure of defensive leader Mehdi Benatia to undefeated Roma. Elsewhere, Juventus acquired firepower up front over the summer in the form of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, who scored the winner for the Bianconeri as they dispatched Udinese at the weekend, while Napoli engaged in a spending spree courtesy of the Edinson Cavani sale.
Inter made several key purchases and brought in Walter Mazzarri at the helm to right the ship following a rancid 2012-13 season, and Fiorentina pulled off a brilliant coup to sign Mario Gomez, though he has missed much of the term.
In short, the writing is on the wall for Udinese. Eventually, the time had to come when such a level of performance came to be unsustainable for a club of limited resources. Francesco Guidolin certainly sees it, and knows that the Zebrette will be hard-pressed to recreate their feats of the past three years with the top-five already pulling away, and a slew of dangerous sides still blocking the path to the European places.
As the campaign carries on, the Serie A elite will continue to leave the Stadio Friuli outfit behind, at last outdoing a rival that have confounded them to no end in recent history.