On Thursday night at Anfield Liverpool play their first Europa League group game against Italian side Udinese. ECHO Sport's Neil Jones runs the rule over a team punching well above their weight in recent seasons - and a club with ambitions beyond their own borders.
For a club with an average attendance of around 15,000, from a city of just 100,000 inhabitants, Udinese have been making quite a splash over the past few years. Tomorrow, they head to Anfield looking to strengthen their bid for a place in the Europa League knockout stages.
And despite an indifferent start to their league campaign, which has seen them take six points from their first six games, the Bianconeri will arrive on Merseyside confident they can spring a surprise. Brendan Rodgers and his side have been warned; the 'Little Zebras' should not be underestimated. It has been a transitional few months at Stadio Friuli, but then it often is.
Italian football is a place dominated by the traditional powerhouses – chiefly, the Milan giants and current champions Juventus. The likes of Udinese, ostensibly a small club with a modest following, are rarely expected to compete. And if they do, then they usually see their best players picked off by the big boys.
That was exactly what happened this summer. Having finished a barely-credible third in Serie A last season, ahead of the likes of Roma, Lazio and Inter, Udinese saw their immensely promising squad picked apart in the close-season.
Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah were both pinched by Juventus, whilst highly-rated goalkeeper Samir Handanovic joined Inter. That trio were plucked from obscurity, at staggeringly low cost, yet earned the club well in excess of €25m.
It is not a new thing. Udinese's scouting network has tentacles across the world. It is both thorough and impressive. Their South American connections are especially strong - they found both Isla and Alexis Sanchez in Chile as teenagers - whilst the club itself has earned a reputation for providing one of the best shop windows in European football.
With the likes of Sanchez (Barcelona), Gokhan Inler (Napoli), Cristian Zapata (Villarreal), Simone Pepe and Fabio Quagliarella (both Juventus) all having moved on in recent seasons, and players of the calibre Sulley Muntari, Asamoah Gyan, Aleksandar Lukovic and David Pizarro all having passed through, the turnover of talent at the club has been huge.
Francesco Guidolin, a nomadic coach with a lengthy list of former clubs, lost his first four league games following his arrival at the club from Parma in 2010, but has qualified the club for the Champions League in each of his two full campaigns in charge. They were fourth in 2010, and went one better last season, despite a significant overhaul of the playing staff in the interim.
Regrettably, they have since been unable to take that next step by sealing a place in the Champions League group stages. They were beaten by Arsenal in the play-off round last season, and this year fell to a penalty shootout defeat to Braga of Portugal at the same stage.
And so they find themselves with 'only' the consolation of the Europa League. They needed a last-minute strike from Antonio Di Natale, their captain and talisman, to secure a 1-1 draw with Anzhi Makhachkala, the emerging Russian force, in their opening game last month, but they have the talent to challenge in what is perhaps the strongest group in the competition.
Di Natale, a European Championship finalist with Italy in the summer, is the heartbeat of the side. At 34, his career is in its twilight, but his record in North East Italy is phenomenal. He was Serie A leading goalscorer in both 2010 and 2011, and has scored at least 28 goals in each of his last three campaigns. His overall record at Udinese is 162 goals in 312 games.
Beyond him, the supporting cast is solid, rather than spectacular. The Colombian full-back Pablo Armero and the Moroccan Mehdi Benatia are expected to be the next to move on from the club for a big profit, while Roberto Pereyra is an Argentine midfielder of immense promise.
They may not have the quality of recent incarnations but, as a business model, Udinese provide the blueprint for a lot of clubs. It will be interesting to see how the latest crop cope in the Anfield spotlight.
Alberto Aquilani was a given and, though his was a rather forgettable spell on Merseyside, most would remember Andrea Dossena (a player who, coincidentally, was signed from Udinese). But the other? It had plenty scrambling for their history books. Yet on Thursday, the chances are the player will be staring them straight in the face. He is likely to line up in goal for the Italians.
Daniele Padelli is a name that slunk quietly into a forgotten corner of Liverpool's past. Signed on loan from Sampdoria in January 2007, he would make just a single appearance for the Reds; a 2-2 draw with Charlton on the final day of the 2006-07 league season, just ten days before Rafa Benitez's side faced AC Milan in the Champions League final in Athens.
It was a debut to forget. Padelli was at fault for both Charlton goals, and returned to Italy soon after. He joined Udinese on a permanent basis this summer, and will be hoping to create a better Anfield memory this time around.