Udinese is on the hunt for its seventh straight win as they await the visit of fellow surprise package Atalanta on Sunday, a clash between two of Serie A’s model clubs.
A traditionally tiny team used to punching above its weight, Udinese is just one point behind league leaders Napoli from whom Atalanta is separated by goal difference.
The 19 points racked up by Andrea Sottil’s team is the most Udinese has ever accumulated from its first eight games of a Serie A season and its aggressive, attacking performances have made the rest of the league sit up and take notice.
Having already thumped both Inter Milan and Roma on home turf, on Monday it fought back from a goal down at Verona to claim a 2-1 win in stoppage time in a performance that was more like one of Gian Piero Gasperini’s vintage Atalanta sides than the stodgy Udinese of recent seasons.
In Gerard Deulofeu, Udinese has one of the league’s brightest creative forces and its total of 17 goals is only one less than Napoli, who travel to Cremonese on a high after smashing Ajax 6-1 in Amsterdam.
Owned by the Pozzo family for over three decades, Udinese has been a Serie A fixture since the mid-1990s and are one of the few clubs in Italy to own its stadium, the old city-owned Stadio Fruili having been bought in 2013 and then refurbished into the sort of modern facility other clubs dream of having.
“The secret of our success is the Pozzo family,” said Udinese’s sporting director Pierpaolo Marino after the Verona win.
“Thinking big helps you to win. We shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back but realise that we’re good.”
Atalanta are another club who, by budget, should not be anywhere near Italy’s big guns but last season’s eighth-placed finish now looks a blip rather than the end of an era.
Throughout Gasperini’s reign in Bergamo, Atalanta has bewitched fans with its gung-ho football but this year are a much more sober proposition.
Just three goals conceded in its eight matches — which include fixtures with AC Milan and Roma — is even more impressive given the recent raft of injuries that have affected Gasperini’s team selection, with Italy defender Rafael Toloi the latest to be ruled out with a thigh injury.
He joins centre-back Berat Djimsiti, starting goalkeeper Juan Musso, right-back Davide Zappacosta and first choice centre-forward Duvan Zapata on the treatment table.
Atalanta are also renovating its stadium, bought off Bergamo city council in 2017, and has attracted foreign investment in the shape of American fund Bain Capital to flank long-time owners the Percassi family.
Another club trying to build a new stadium is AC Milan, who has to stop licking its wounds after humiliation at Chelsea and prepare for the visit of Juventus.
Milan has got its title defence off to a decent start and sit three points behind the leading pair, but half of Stefano Pioli’s first-choice team are out of the San Siro clash injured with Chelsea coming to Milan on Tuesday.
Juve will miss the creativity of the suspended Angel Di Maria, who set up every goal in its 3-1 win over Maccabi Haifa on Wednesday and looked a class above everyone else on the Allianz Stadium pitch.
Player to watch: Gerard Deulofeu
The one-time Spain international has already set up six goals this season and is top of the pile for assists, ahead of much bigger names like Rafael Leao and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
Former Watford man Deulofeu has had a bitty career but has found a home at Udinese, where he is at the centre of Sottil’s attack-minded strategy.
Everything flows through the 28-year-old, who will be key to whether Udinese has break down Italy’s stingiest backline.
6 – Both Udinese’s winning run and Gerard Deulofeu’s league assists
5 – Portuguese striker Beto has netted five times for Udinese
Fixtures (times GMT