After 14 games Udinese sit joint top of Serie A with Juventus. For a club who challenged, unsuccessfully, for the league only once before, and that was over half a century ago, this is unquestionably the best team in their history. Their home record in the league reads: played 7, won 7, scored 14, conceded 2; they also won Europa League home games against Atletico and Rennes.
They have taken 4 out of 6 points from the San Siro this season and have failed to win only one of their last eight league games. You would be hard pushed to justify nominating anyone else as the ‘form team’ in Europe right now.
This is the test Celtic need. Few positive lessons can be learned from home games against St Mirren, even if they deliver a deluge of goals, but a field in Udine tonight presents our aspiring winners with a stage to demonstrate their potential. Before this month is out we will have different challenges; St Johnstone, Kilmarnock and Rangers present different dangers, but any team that can win in Udine can beat anyone in Europe.
We’ll witness 90 minutes of difficult personal challenges for Celtic players all over the field tonight. It will take more than just concentration to deny goal scoring chances and any opportunities we get in front of goal will be hard earned.
There are reasons to be hopeful. A decade ago a team of equally illustrious Italians were rocked by Celtic, so much so they reverted to diving in the box. Gordon Strachan’s un-fancied Celtic team subsequently took AC Milan to extra time at the San Siro in Champions League, denied by a legitimate penalty claim of their own. There is also the nagging feeling that Celtic’s resources are actually more suited to the counter-attacking game they are seldom able to play. We’ll see.
Birthday wishes to Kano today (or yesterday as it now is in Perth, WA), a child of ‘67. Two years home and still itching for get hold of the keyboard for the songs debate.