Udinese, the hottest club in the Italian league following five straight wins, is not unaccustomed to punching above its weight.
Just ask coach Andrea Sottil, who is managing a Serie A club for the first time, having played for Udinese as a defender from 1999-2003 — when the northeastern club won the since-discontinued UEFA Intertoto Cup.
“It's just like when I left: An ambitious club, with high-level facilities, services and organization," Sottil told Corriere della Sera. "Everything necessary to work well is here. And it's got one of the nicest stadiums in Europe.”
Featuring physical players like Brazilian center back Rodrigo Becão and Portuguese center forward Beto alongside talented veterans like Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deolofeu, Udinese hasn't lost since getting beat by defending champion AC Milan in the season opener at the San Siro.
Then came a draw with Salernitana when Udinese was reduced to 10 men, followed by the current winning streak which has seen Udinese surge up to third place — one point behind Napoli and Atalanta.
Udinese routed Jose Mourinho's Roma 4-0 and beat 2020-21 champion Inter Milan 3-1 in its last match before the international break.
With 15 goals scored, Sottil's team has the joint most in the league along with Napoli — and they've done it with nine different scorers, led by Beto (4), 19-year-old Destiny Udogie, who is on loan from Tottenham, and Germany under-21 midfielder Lazar Samardžic (2 each).
“We're not going to get too excited, because we know how difficult Serie A is and how strong the big-city clubs are,” said Gianpaolo Pozzo, Udinese's 81-year-old owner.
“We've got to get players with a lot of potential and make them improve rapidly to realize our goals."
The Pozzos also run the Watford team in England, which has supplied players like Deolofeu.
“I want to get back into Europe like we've done many times before,” Pozzo said, referring to the 11 times that Udinese has competed in continental competitions, highlighted by a Champions League group campaign in 2005.
On Monday, Udinese visits Hellas Verona, followed by challenging matches against Atalanta and Lazio.
“Let's hope we achieve our goal and then we can have some fun in Europe,” Pozzo said.
116 GAMES IN 45 DAYS
Over the next 45 days there are 116 Serie A matches scheduled, and only four days without games. Then there is a nearly two-month break for the World Cup.
The league resumes on Saturday with leader Napoli hosting Torino still without injured forward Victor Osimhen but with many new options in attack, led by Giacomo Raspadori, who is coming off two goals in two Nations League wins for Italy over England and Hungary.
Inter was expecting to have Romelu Lukaku back from injury this weekend but the center forward appears set to miss another game.
Inter has also lost Marcelo Brozovic to injury for a month after the midfielder was hurt with Croatia.
Likewise, Milan, which visits Empoli, is without goalkeeper Mike Maignan, who was injured while on France duty.
Juventus' Ángel Di Maria serves the first of a two-game suspension when the struggling Bianconeri host Bologna.
And Maria Sole Ferrieri Caputi will become the first woman to referee a Serie A match when she takes charge of Sassuolo's game against Salernitana on Sunday.