Juventus are guaranteed to see in the New Year joint top of the table after grinding out a hard-fought goalless draw in Udine. Antonio Conte’s men displayed plenty of character and resilience in a tight encounter with in-form Udinese. The manager will be particularly pleased by his side’s defensive performance, in which Bonucci and Barzagli successfully nullified the threat posed by Di Natale to preserve the Bianconeri’s unbeaten run. Conte elected to change his formation and match Udinese’s dynamic 3-5-2 system. Bonucci returned to the fold following his recent suspension, joining Barzagli and Chiellini in defence. Vidal also stepped back in after sitting out Sunday’s encounter with Novara, while Estigarribia operated as a left wing-back.
Matri replaced Quagliarella as the team’s lone striker, with Pepe supporting from deep. Both teams played out a tentative opening to proceedings, looking to keep possession and probe for a breakthrough. It was Juventus who almost drew first blood with eight minutes on the clock. Marchisio and Estigarribia neatly combined on the left-hand side, with the ‘Little Prince’ sending a low strike narrowly wide of the post. Two minutes later, the ball fell to Pepe in a central position and the winger tried his luck with a fierce effort from outside the area that flew straight into the arms of Handanovic. Despite the Bianconeri beginning to enjoy the upper hand over their rivals, they had to be alert to the threat posed by the hosts on the break. A moment of defensive panic almost let in Isla, but Buffon was alert to prevent the Chilean from lifting the ball towards goal.
The wing-back’s fellow countryman Vidal then sparked into life and knocked a clever pass square to Marchisio. The midfielder stepped over the ball before curling a shot narrowly wide of the post, with appeals for a corner being waved away by Tagliavento. Juventus began the second half as the brighter of the two sides, looking as aggressive and purposeful as ever in their quest to breach an Udinese rearguard which had only conceded two home goals this season. And seven minutes after the restart, Chiellini had a good chance to open the scoring. The defender rose highest from a corner but saw Handanovic get down to stop his goalbound header. The action then moved down to the other end, with Buffon being called into action as Danilo got up at the back post to divert a header towards goal.
The Azzurri number one watched it all the way and tipped the centre-back’s effort over the bar. It was then Asamoah’s turn to go for goal, as the Ghanaian midfielder worked himself into space before sending in a left-footed shot that Buffon proved equal to. Midway through the second period, Conte chose to make the first change of the game – introducing Quagliarella at the expense of Matri. And last week’s match-winner almost had an instant impact, hitting a strong effort which skewed wide of the near post. As both sides entered the last ten minutes, Quagliarella saw another chance come his way – latching onto Marchisio’s pass and drawing a save from Handanovic with a low strike. The late arrival of Del Piero nearly paid instant dividends. The captain received a pass in the area, held the ball and then picked out an unmarked Lichtsteiner at the back post.
However, the full-back’s first touch was a little heavy and he failed to test the goalkeeper with a rasping effort that cleared the bar. Following three minutes of added time, Tagliavento elected to bring an end to a feisty battle between the two front-runners. The result is the Bianconeri’s third successive away draw and ensures that they will end 2011 on a high – level on points with Milan at the summit of Serie A.
UDINESE Handanovic; Ferronetti, Danilo, Domizzi; Basta, Isla, Pinzi, Asamoah, Armero; Abdi (Floro Flores 86); Di Natale Substitutes not used: Padelli, Pereyra, Piccoli, Pasquale, Doubai, Fabbrini. Manager: Guidolin
JUVENTUS Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Estigarribia (De Ceglie 90); Pepe (Del Piero 80), Matri (Quagliarella 71) Substitutes not used: Storari, Pazienza, Elia, Giaccherini. Manager: Conte
REFEREE: Tagliavento ASSISTANTS:Padovan, Tonolini FOURTH OFFICIAL: Romeo
BOOKINGS: Basta 40, Pinzi 42, Vidal 43, Isla 49, Guidolin 47
The Second Half still needs to be processed by the Host server… but it will be soon also available … just watch the First Half and then the Second Half