Udinese welcomed AC Milan to the Stadio Friuli for the most intriguing game of the Serie A weekend.
The hosts hoped to solidify their unexpectedly strong spot in the table, while the visitors needed a fourth consecutive league win if they were to have any hope of a desperate assault on the Champions League places.
The 1-1 draw represented a fair result for what was a back and forth affair but Suso’s wonder strike Goal of the Season contender stole the headlines.
Here are four talking points from the game.
1 Suso's goal of the season contender
While Sunday’s outcome on the scoreboard left Milanisti grumbling, one spectacular moment made this a day to remember.
Suso opened the scoring from near nothing, cutting short a not particularly threatening attacking move with one full swing of his left leg.
His swerving shot drove trigonometrically toward a destined endpoint written in a sea of flashbulb stars. It whistled past the flailing, doomed goalkeeper, still somehow rising as it clipped the underside of the crossbar and thumped into the grass beyond the goal line.
The beauty of this particular strike lurked in its improbability, the fact that every ounce of its power derived from the shooter itself.
Tottenham’s Victor Wanyama scored the weekend’s other highlight reel long distance shot but his was as much the hit-and-hope product of running at speed onto a rebound and it lacked the inexplicably satisfying seasoning of the rattled woodwork.
Suso’s was entirely his own, the product of mind coming into perfect alignment with body. The result was unforgettable.
2 Calabria goes from hero to zero
Milan’s Davide Calabria enjoyed a bath of well-deserved plaudits after his Man of the Match performance in last week’s win over Lazio but the academy product turned back into a pumpkin Sunday afternoon at the Stadio Friuli.
Whether his headless chicken performance against Udinese, which culminated in two yellow cards and commensurate sending off, is representative of his future prospects or was just the expected growing pains of a young player settling into a first-team role will be a key question for Gattuso between now and the end of the season.
The return of Alessio Romagnoli fortified a talented Milan central defence but uncertainty at the fullback positions continued to unsettle what should be a strong overall unit for Gattuso’s team.
Udinese created their share of chances before Calabria’s red card but Milan being reduced to ten men intensified the siege Oddo’s men laid on the Rossoneri defence.
Unconvincing finishing kept Udinese scoreless until the 76th minute when an awkward ball put into the crowded space in front of Donnarumma’s goal by Kevin Lasagna deflected off Leonardo Bonucci’s thigh and past the goalkeeper for an equalising own goal.
3 A testament to youth development
Udinese established themselves as a Serie A mainstay over the last two decades by scouting and developing young players more effectively than their potential rivals. Known primarily as a gateway to Italian football for Latin American and Slavic prospects, their newest find comes via Italy’s lower league.
The implausibly named Kevin Lasagna arrived at the Friuli via Carpi, having featured for the Biancorossi in their only top-flight campaign in 2015-16. Signed last January, the 25-year-old Lasagna possesses a wide variety of both skills and frustrations. The man, as the kids say, has layers.
The kind of player who is good at everything and great at nothing, he tests defences both mentally and physically with an in-game versatility that allows his team to attack in a different way each time down the pitch.
His biggest strength is an unusually precise internal alarm clock that consistently allows for the kind of perfectly timed run that produced Bonucci’s own goal on Sunday.
His lack of an elite physical attribute and his relatively late career blooming may keep him from making a move to one of Serie A’s giants but Lasagna will be
4 Two coaches with much still to prove
Sunday’s touchline’s were occupied by two friends who shared in Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph. Massimo Oddo, a former Milan player, led Pescara through the promotion playoffs and into Serie A and Gennaro Gattuso’s tempestuous tenures at both Palermo and Pisa gave him a fiery baptism into the chaotic world of coaching on the peninsula.
Both now elevated to much higher profile jobs, they must learn on the fly while avoiding the kind of losing streak that so often sees the axe of blame fall of the manager.
Oddo’s Udinese climbed the table out of the spotlight during the first half of this season, while Gattuso’s calamitous Milan debut has given way to the steady accumulation of points and what appears to be an increasingly cohesive team.
These two, in addition to the brothers Inzaghi, Simone in the Champions League places at Lazio and Pippo leading Venezia’s ambitious club-building process in Serie B, form the vanguard of the next generation of Italian managers.
Cache from their careers on the pitch undoubtedly gave them a leg up in getting so far so soon but only success on the bench will lead them down the well-trod path of Azzurri stars turned coaching legends.
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