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Serie A Week 3 - 21/9/08 (14.00 UK)
Udinese - Napoli
Stadio Friuli

These two clubs have got off to a great start and hope to be there fighting for UEFA Cup spots – or better – by the end of the season, too. Udinese have a point to prove after last season’s 5-0 humiliation.

Udinese and Napoli have both constructed solid squads by scouting for young talent around the globe and the approach is paying dividends, as both compete in the UEFA Cup this week against Borussia Dortmund and Benfica respectively.

It is curious to note that despite this cosmopolitan squad, Udinese’s top stars – Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella – are diehard Napoli supporters facing their hometown club. They are likely to be the only Neapolitans in the stadium, as the ban on travelling fans continues. Di Natale is on fine form at the moment, which Juventus boss Claudio Ranieri dubbed “the Midas Touch” after braces for his club and Italy in the World Cup qualifier with Cyprus.

Of the two, Napoli have had the brightest opening to the campaign, holding Roma to a 1-1 draw at the Olimpico despite going down to 10 men and fighting back to defeat Fiorentina 2-1. Ezequiel Lavezzi was the hero in that last round after setting up two goals with his sensational runs to the by-line, though German Denis is yet to find his scoring boots and is facing pressure from Inacio Pià. Fabiano Santacroce returns from suspension, though Paolo Cannavaro, Manuele Blasi and Salvatore Aronica are a yellow card away from a ban.

The Friulani were surprisingly timid in their 1-0 defeat at Juventus, which could easily have been more had it not been for the woodwork coming to their rescue twice. With the UEFA Cup on Thursday, it is possible Di Natale and maybe even Quagliarella could be rested for at least part of the match in favour of Antonio Floro Flores (another Neapolitan native) and Chilean wonder kid Alexis Sanchez.

Andrea Coda showed a marked improvement in defence and, with Dias Felipe and Cristian Zapata still injured, may be partnered by late summer signing Maurizio Domizzi. This would be an odd game indeed for him to make his Udinese debut, as he left Napoli in the final hours of the transfer window in bitter circumstances.

The defender said he had been the subject of a ‘smear campaign’ from fans who alleged his wife had an affair with goalkeeper Gennaro Iezzo. “For months, this fabrication threatened my family. No one from the club defended me. Therefore I was forced to leave Naples, not on technical grounds, but to protect my family.” Obviously, meeting the team again this soon is going to be an emotional occasion for Domizzi.

Keep an eye on: Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli) – The Argentine is the driving force behind Napoli’s every attack and his dribbling skills are enough to give opposition defenders nightmares. The Friulani certainly won’t have forgotten his inspirational performance when Napoli ran riot here 5-0 last season.

Last season: Udinese 0-5 Napoli

Form guide: Udinese (W L - - -) Napoli (D W - - -)
Udinese (probable): Handanovic; Pasquale, Domizzi, Coda, Nef; Tissone, D’Agostino, Motta; Di Natale, Floro Flores, Pepe

Napoli (probable): Iezzo; Aronica, Contini, Cannavaro; Vitale, Hamsik, Gargano, Blasi, Maggio; Lavezzi, Denis

Ref: To follow…

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