On November 21st, a mere three points separated Udinese from the relegation zone.
After suffering a disappointing home defeat to Cagliari two days prior and earning a miserable 12 points from 12 matches, coach Luigi Delneri was shown the door at Udinese.
Narrow consecutive wins over Sassuolo and Atalanta following a 6-2 drubbing by Juventus at the Stadio Friuli extended his stay, a reprieve at best. Now rudderless with difficult fixtures against Napoli and Inter on the horizon, the Zebrette were in dire need of a stabilizing figure on the sidelines and in the dressing room. What they got was beyond their wildest dreams.
Enter Massimo Oddo.
The 41-year-old former World Cup winner and Italian national arrived at the club with less than two years of coaching under his belt, spending all of it on the shores of the Adriatic with Pescara. He secured a promotion spot for the Delfini promptly after his appointment in May, 2015, but was sacked midway through the following season in February of 2017.
Club sporting director Manuel Gerolin demonstrated his confidence in the new appointee, stating “Massimo Oddo is an up-and-coming coach and we believe he’ll do very well here at Udinese“. Oddo remarked that he had been deputized “To work hard on implementing my soccer philosophy” and that “What you see on the field will be the result of the ideas I have in my head.”
The Abruzzo native immediately faced the daunting task of hosting then league leaders Napoli at the Friuli. Oddo’s new 3-5-1-1 formation held the Serie A’s most potent attacking force to just a single goal, a rebound finished by Jorginho after Scuffet failed to handle the midfielder’s penalty kick. Despite the result, it was a noteworthy improvement over the six they conceded to Juve just weeks prior.
Since then, Udinese have burst into flames, winning five straight in the league and vaulting nine places in the league table. Oddo’s results represent a complete one-eighty for the Zebrette. To compare, Oddo has won 15 points from six matches, scoring 14 and conceding twice. In the previous 12 matches under Delneri, Udinese scored 18, conceded 23, and earned 12 points.
Oddo has instituted a major tactical overhaul, favoring a dynamic 3-5-1-1 or 3-5-2 formation in stark contrast to the 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 employed by his predecessor. In the attack, the five-man midfield allows for an interior midfielder, generally Jakub Jankto or Antonin Barak, to advance and join strikers Kevin Lasagna and Maxi López without sacrificing the team shape or creating holes in the midfield line to be exploited on the counter.
Under the instruction of Oddo, Lasagna is willing to drop deeper to receive the ball and combine with Jankto or Barak, dragging a defender with him in the process and dashing back toward the newly-created empty space in the defensive line to latch onto the second half of the one-two. The former Carpi talisman has bagged five goals in five consecutive matches, his hot streak and aggressive style of play curiously similar to that of Jamie Vardy and his record-breaking 2015/16 season. He has also won over the hearts of calcio fans with the best name in the league.
In defense, wingbacks Silvan Widmer and Ali Adnan drop deep in line with the centerbacks, creating a 5-3-2 that has proven nearly impossible to penetrate. Oddo’s men never shy away from a challenge and possess the grinta that calcio fans have long adored.
The new boss has transformed Jakub Jankto from a customary box-to-box center midfielder to a trequartista, a creative role operating in between the attackers and midfielders that seeks to create create chances and score goals with minimal defensive duties.
It is best imagined as a hybrid of a #9 and #10, a player with the creative mindset and technical ability of a #10 but the goalscoring and attacking instinct of a #9. The Czech youngster can be seen dropping in between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines in the left half-space, slipping teammates in on net with a line-breaking thru-ball or cleaning up an attacking sequence on his own.
Standing at 6′ with a slender build, Jankto is a bit of an awkward figure in the midfield, however like that of Sergej Milinković-Savić, his profile belies his gracefulness, impressive technique, and vision. His attacking output has exploded since the transformation, scoring twice and assisting three in five matches.
Jakub Jankto and Antonin Barak, alongside Sampdoria loanee Patrik Schick and Bologna winger Ladislav Krejčí, comprise a strong Czech attacking core in the Serie A. The Czech Republic failed to qualify for this summer’s World Cup and finished in the basement of Group D in the 2016 European Championship but look to post a superior performance in the 2020 edition as these forwards mature and enter their respective primes.
Massimo Oddo’s brief tenure at Udinese has been nothing short of revolutionary. The young coach has implemented a brand of dynamic, direct, and efficient attacking football that aims to create chances from the half-spaces and maximize the skills and instincts of each player without surrendering the team shape.
Oddo not only comfortably warded off the club’s descent into the relegation zone, but has joined Fiorentina, Atalanta, and Sampdoria in the race for the final prized Europa League berth granted to the 6th-placed finisher in Italy’s top flight. Udinese sit even with La Viola and La Dea on 27 points, three off I Blucerchiati in 6th.
January will be a pivotal month for the Zebrette as they stand to pick up points against several of the league’s weakest sides, attempt to fend off overtures for their stars from larger Serie A clubs and abroad, and close the gap on Sampdoria.
With Lasagna hitting his stride, Jankto flourishing in his new role, and fresh tactics revitalizing the club, the time is of the essence for Oddo and Udinese to launch their strongest push for European play in a decade and detach themselves from the mid-table mediocrity that became characteristic of them in that span.