Leaders clash in Serie A's lost opening round

Udinese and Juventus meet in a top-of-the-table clash on Wednesday as Italy finally plays what was intended to be the opening round of matches in Serie A.

This week's fixtures were due to be played in late August but had to be postponed when the players went on strike in a row over collective rights.

The Italian Players' Union (AIC) wanted guarantees that players who were no longer wanted by their clubs would not be forced to train separately from their squads or be forced to move. The clubs wanted their coaching staff to be allowed to make the decision.

The two sides eventually reached a compromise and the season kicked off with the second round of games.

Few could have imagined at the time that unassuming Udinese's meeting with Juve would have been so significant.

Juventus top the table with 33 points from 15 games, two ahead of Udinese and defending champions AC Milan.

Although they finished fourth last term, Udinese sold two of their most influential players with Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler joining Napoli and Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez moving to Barcelona.

Coach Francesco Guidolin, who still insists that his team's target is to reach 40 points and avoid relegation, has managed to cover for their absence without any high-profile reinforcements.

However, with little strength in depth and heavily dependent on the goals of 34-year-old forward Antonio Di Natale, who started on the substitutes bench in the 2-2 draw with Lazio at the weekend, Udinese's third match in a week could prove taxing.

"We've had a battle in Europe and we are the only team in Italy who have to play three matches in six games," said Guidolin. "We have to dose our energies otherwise we'll be exhausted by February."

Juventus, meanwhile, have enjoyed their best start to the championship since returning to Serie A following the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal which saw them stripped of the 2005 and 2006 titles and demoted.

Having finished seventh in each of the last two seasons, Juve, under new coach Antonio Conte, now enjoy the only remaining unbeaten record in any of Europe's big leagues.

Their big worry remains their wayward finishing which saw them settle for a 2-0 win over lowly Novara on Sunday when they could have had a hatful of goals.

"We will work a lot on this aspect, in the next games we'll look to capitalise on this more to avoid giving me heart problems," said Conte.

"However, I prefer to have this problem rather than others, I'm happy at the way the team work their way through to goal."

In other matches, Milan visit Cagliari on Tuesday while Lazio host Chievo on Wednesday.


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