Udinese vs. AC Milan: 6 Things We Learned
Thanks to four wins in his first six games in charge, the Clarence Seedorf era at Milan had certainly begun in the best possible way.
There was an inescapable feeling that a cloud had been lifted following the end of Massimiliano Allegri’s tenure, and an air of positivity had once again descended upon San Siro.
After last weekend’s defeat at the hands of Juventus, it was hoped that the Rossoneri would continue their good form as they travelled to face struggling minnows Udinese. The Dutch coach had much to consider with the away leg of their Champions League last 16 meeting against Atletico Madrid awaiting.
Seeking a balance between three important Serie A points and resting players for that vital European encounter, Seedorf made seven changes to his starting XI, teaching us much about his current mindset.
Over the following pages are six things we learned about these two sides from the game, which ended with a 1-0 defeat for Milan.
European Hope Remains
With those seven changes to their starting line-up, Milan showed that they still believe they can overcome Atletico Madrid later this week.
The Spanish side won 1-0 at San Siro, but in resting a number of key players, Seedorf clearly hopes the Rossoneri can qualify for the quarter-finals.
It will be no easy task, as Diego Simeone’s men look in excellent form once again, and the visitors will need to be at their very best to win by a two-goal margin. Sacrificing three points here is unlikely to alter their final league position but leaves the coach with a fully refreshed squad to select from at the Vicente Calderon.
But Hoping to Avoid Europa League?
Milan struggled to maintain their focus, but perhaps it was not completely unintentional. The Rossoneri went into this encounter just five points away from a place in next season’s Europa League, a berth the club may not actually want.
This season the absence of continental football has seen Roma able to contend for the league title. Without midweek matches to tire players or distract focus, Roma are consistently at the top of the table, a place Milan certainly want to return to.
Defensive Woes Continue for Milan
Adil Rami has proven to be an excellent addition in the January transfer window, averaging 1.9 tackles, 0.9 interceptions and 5.3 clearances per game according to WhoScored.com.
As one of those rested on Saturday, his absence was heavily felt as Cristian Zapata and Philippe Mexes struggled to contain the Udinese attack.
The Frenchman was fortunate to see Antonio Di Natale miss on a couple of occasions when he gave the ball away to the Zebrette captain. Neither back-up defender appears to possess the ability needed to take the Rossoneri back to the top of Serie A.
Keisuke Honda Still Struggling
Tipped to make a huge impact at Milan, Keisuke Honda is still enduring a tough start to life at San Siro. The Japanese star made his sixth start of the campaign but has just a solitary assist during those appearances.
Clearly fatigued, the 27-year-old has played a full season in Russia before moving to Italy, and the match was his 32nd of a campaign which began for him back in July.
Seedorf seems to understand that an adjustment period is essential, telling Sky Italia that patience is needed with Honda. Speaking immediately after the match, the coach said (h/t FootballItalia);
He must give himself the patience to get to know Italian football. I am convinced he can do very well cutting in from the right. It’s never easy when there are too many expectations, so I think the thing he needs the most is time.
Antonio Di Natale Still Deadly
Antonio Di Natale has already announced his intention to retire at the end of the current season, drawing a line under a stellar 18-year career.
His goal against Milan not only showed he can still find the back of the net regularly at the highest level but also highlighted just how much Udinese will miss him in the future.
The strike also took the club captain within three of Alessandro Del Piero on the all-time scoring chart in Serie A. The Juventus legend ranks eighth highest in the history of the league and will surely be overtaken by Di Natale very soon.
Simone Scuffet the Latest Udinese Star?
Udinese have long been a club that has uncovered incredible talent, but it has usually been through extensive scouting in markets which other European clubs have yet to fully exploit.
With those places quickly drying up, it is impressive indeed to see goalkeeper Simone Scuffet emerge from their ranks.
Only 17 years old, the 'keeper came into the line-up against Bologna in early February, stepping in following an injury to regular Zeljko Brkic. The Serbian has since returned to fitness but has been unable to regain his place, thanks to the youngster’s excellent form.
With 15 saves across his six league appearances to date, according to FoxSoccer, Scuffet has already kept three clean sheets, compared to his predecessor’s single shutout. A native of Remanzacco just north of Udine, the Italian joins a long list of young shot-stoppers emerging on the peninsula.
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