Serie A - Udinese beat Roma to go top
Udinese rebounded from defeat to Parma with a 2-0 home win over Roma to retain top slot in Serie A - for now.
Roma were similarly profligate against Lecce last weekend - Bojan the guilty party then, benched on Friday night - but it was a collective malaise this time as Luis Enrique’s side failed to capitalise on good possession and a plethora of set pieces, made to pay by Udinese’s infamous counter attacks.
With 11 minutes left Di Natale raced in from halfway to control and finish past Maarten Stekelenburg for his 11th career league goal against Roma - a record - while in the 89th minute Chile midfielder Isla converted from close range after a scintillating counter and cross from the excellent Pablo Armero.
Udinese are two points clear of Juventus and Lazio, but both those sides and fourth-placed Milan can leapfrog the Zebrette with victories over the weekend.
After a 10-minute delay to kick-off due to technical problems in Stadio Friuli, the first half was largely a dreary affair, only springing to life in the latter stages as two evenly-matched sides cancelled each other out.
Early highlights included a fine saving challenge by Roma’s Denmark defender Simon Kjaer on Di Natale from six yards out, while Mehdi Benatia headed over from a Di Natale set-piece just before the half hour.
It was mostly scrappy and bitty though, with the obvious midfield talent on show for both sides restricted by some niggly fouls that resulted in three bookings but probably should have seen more.
With half-time approaching things livened up a touch as Fernando Gago, who got his first Roma goal in the 2-1 win over Lecce last weekend, curled a long-range effort just wide, while for the hosts Di Natale collided with team-mate Armero as he prepared to finish from six yards, putting over when, unimpeded, he would have scored.
Deep into first-half stoppage time Roma had another chance when Miralem Pjanic, the source of much of their attacking intent ahead of a subdued Erik Lamela, dragged his finish across Samir Handanovic and wide after surging into the box.
Early in the second half Roma continued in a similar vein as Daniele De Rossi forced a smart stop from Handanovic, while Juan twice headed wide from resultant Pjanic corners, the first effort having been deflected.
The visitors were in the ascendance as Lamela was denied a solo goal by Danilo’s sliding block, but Udinese almost took the lead against the run of play when Di Natale mis-kicked his finish after great work from Armero on the left.
It was business as usual soon afterwards as livewire forward Pablo Osvaldo beat Handanovic - and the crossbar - with a rising drive following a mazy dribble.
But Udinese again nearly snatched the lead when, after a goalmouth scramble followed a set piece, Serbia winger Dusan Basta was denied a close-range finish by the sprawling frame of Roma keeper Stekelenburg.
Armero was getting in good positions on the break and his whipped cross almost found Di Natale, but for a crucial intervention from Juan, who was having a sensational game as he returned to partner Kjaer in place of Gabriel Heinze.
But Juan and Kjaer were unable to match Di Natale for pace when, with 11 minutes remaining, the Italy striker raced away from their offside trap to meet Giampiero Pinzi’s long pass, nodding it on with his head before thrashing a superb finish past Stekelenburg for a lead that was in essence against the balance of play.
Kjaer’s inability to keep up was explained as he limped off immediately afterwards, having pulled a muscle in his left leg, Roma boss Luis Enrique bringing on attacking wing-back Marco Cassetti, with striker Bojan already on the pitch.
With Roma pushing for an equaliser there was plenty of space for Udinese’s renowned counter-attackers to exploit, and they did just that as Armero surged clear before clipping a deft cross past Stekelenburg for Isla to knock in from a yard.
The smash-and-grab was complete, with Roma sat in fifth and likely to slide a few places, while Udinese perch atop the standings for a day at least.