Serie A Betting: Catania v Udinese

Catania 3.8, the draw 2.1, Udinese 2.9

Four teams remain in the running for third place on the final weekend of the Serie A season, but only one controls its own destiny. Udinese need simply draw with Catania to be certain of a spot in next year’s Champions League qualifiers.

It is a familiar scenario for the Friuliani. Last season, too, they went into their 38th fixture needing just a point to seize Italy’s last spot in the competition – though back then it was fourth, not third that they were chasing. On that occasion they battled to a goalless draw with Milan. The manager, Francesco Guidolin, believes Catania represent a more significant obstacle.

“This time it will be much more difficult, it’s important we get that into our heads,” Guidolin told reporters, and if there was an element of kidology to such words then there are also reasons to believe a fixture against mid-table Catania could prove trickier than one against an opponent who had just been crowned champions. Most significantly, the latter fixture took place in Udine; this weekend’s game will be played in Sicily.

Where Udinese have lost just six home games over the past two league seasons, they have been beaten 16 times on their travels. Catania, despite their modest standing in the table, have won 20 of 37 games at the Stadio Angelo Massimino over the same period.

Indeed, Catania have been no pushovers generally this season – recording their highest-ever points tally in Serie A and at one point looking capable of challenging for a spot in the Europa League. Udinese, though, might just be catching them at the right moment. Vincenzo Montella’s side seem to have taken their foot off the pedal of late – failing win any of their last four games. The absence of Francesco Lodi through suspension also deprives them of their most effective midfield distributor.

Udinese themselves will be without at least one key player – the wing-back Mauricio Isla, who has been out since February with a knee injury. Giampiero Pinzi’s status is also uncertain, but the team’s most important player will be present. Antonio Di Natale, scorer of 79 league goals over the past three seasons, could be making his last-ever appearance for the club.

Di Natale sparked panic when he suggested after last week’s win over Genoa that “I will play in the European Championships, then stop”. He has since altered his position, stating that he will not make up his mind on his future until after Euro 2012, but there remains at least a distinct possibility that he will walk away from the game. Deeply affected by the on-pitch death of Piermario Morosini – a close friend – during a Livorno game last month, Di Natale is understood to be reassessing his priorities.

It is hard to imagine how Udinese would cope without him, Di Natale’s 22 goals this season representing almost half the club’s output. The team’s next highest scorer, Dusan Basta, has five. Then again, Guidolin has taken the club to the brink of third – one place higher than last season – despite the departures last summer of Alexis Sánchez, Gokhan Inler and Cristian Zápata.

All that matters for now is that Di Natale will be available on Sunday, and were you looking for a bet in the scorers’ market, he would be the obvious choice. That said, Catania have a strong defensive record at home – conceding just 13 goals in 18 games and with Udinese – who have kept three consecutive clean sheets – needing only a draw, a cagy game may be in prospect. A punt on under 2.5 goals at 1.9, or even under 1.5 at 4.1, could make sense – as could one against both teams scoring at 2.5.