Few would have predicted Udinese having the chance to top Serie A at any point this season, but Jean-Victor Makengo will line up on Sunday knowing a win against Atalanta will give his team first place – temporarily at least.
Six wins on the bounce have put Udinese just a point from the summit currently held by Napoli, from whom Atalanta are separated by goal difference.
Napoli will hold the league lead if they beat Cremonese later on Sunday evening regardless of how Udinese fare in their clash at the Dacia Arena, but the way Andrea Sottil’s side are playing has made the rest of the league sit up and take notice.
“Yes and no, because we work for these kind of results,” says French midfielder Makengo when asked by AFP if he is surprised by Udinese’s fast start.
“I’m happy if we’re scaring other teams, it’s recognition of our hard work.”
Makengo, 24, has featured in all eight and started six of Udinese’s league fixtures, from which they have amassed a club record 19 Serie A points thanks to a run in which they have thumped both Inter Milan and Roma on home turf.
Their total of 17 goals is only one less than the league’s top scorers Napoli, and with Beto — author of five strikes — and assist specialists Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra, Udinese are capable of doing serious damage to any team in the league.
“We have a core of players who have been together for two or three seasons, that makes things easier,” says Makengo, in his third season at Udinese.
“Our strength has been the mindset that we bring, the coach has been able to get the best out of everyone.”
Sottil was picked as coach in the summer following Gabriele Cioffi’s decision to switch for Verona after guiding Udinese to a respectable 12th place last season.
“He’s made sure that everyone is involved in the team. We always eat together during the week and that forges team spirit,” says Makengo.
A mid-table position is more than acceptable for Udinese, a traditionally tiny club who have been a Serie A fixture since the mid-1990s and had several European excursions in that time.
Sottil was part of an Udinese team which qualified for the UEFA Cup in 2003, and is aiming to bring them back to the level they reached when Antonio Di Natale was leading the line alongside the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Luis Muriel.
“It’s too early to say how far we can go,” says Makengo.
“We’re just trying to think about the next game. I’m not just saying that either, it really is our way of doing things. We’ll see where it takes us.”
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