PARIS – Juventus coach Antonio Conte has showered his team with praise ahead of the showdown at Udinese where the Turin giants will look to ensure themselves of top spot in Serie A heading into 2012.
Juve go into their final game of the year a point behind AC Milan and two ahead of Udinese at the top of the standings following last weekend's 2-0 triumph over Novara.
Another victory would therefore ensure Conte's unbeaten side will start the new year in first place.
A delighted Conte, speaking before AC Milan's 2-0 win at Cagliari, said: "To be leading Serie A after 15 games is proof that my players are doing an extraordinary job.
"It is the merit of my players, who have followed my vision.
"We have gone beyond our expectations but there is still a long way to go before the end of the campaign.
"I'm just happy to have given credibility to my team and for our rivals to return to talk about Juventus with respect."
Conte, who replaced Luigi Del Neri at the helm this summer, knows his side face arguably their biggest test so far against a Udinese team that has shown no signs of weakness at home so far.
Udinese boast a perfect record at home with seven league wins out of seven, and during that run Francesco Guidolin's men have conceded just two goals while scoring 14 times at the Friuli stadium.
"We have great respect for Udinese, who in recent years have done a great job to remain competitive in Italy and in Europe," Conte said.
"They are a serious club, they have a great coach and important players."
Udinese missed a chance to join Juve at the top of the standings after they were held to a 2-2 draw at Lazio on Sunday.
The result dropped them to third, level on 31 points with Milan.
"The game against Juventus is crucial to understand our ambitions this season," said Udinese captain Antonio Di Natale, who is his side's leading scorer with 10 goals.
"But we must be humble and not forget that we are facing a very strong side."
Udinese have reason to be cautious as the last time the two met at the Friuli stadium in Serie A, Juve ran out 4-0 winners.
The hosts will be without defender Mehdi Benatia, who serves a one-match ban.
Conte welcomes back defender Leonardo Benucci and midfielder Arturo Vidal from suspensions, but striker Mirko Vucinic is out injured.