by Nico H
In 4-3-3 formation….
GK: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
A relatively easy call to make. ‘Superman’ has been back to his best form in Serie A this season and won his fair share of points for La Vecchia Signora with some outstanding personal performances. That Juve went the entire season unbeaten was in no small part down to the Nazionale captain’s truly world class talent. Essential to Italy’s Euro 2012 campaign.
LDEF: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus)
An admirable 2010/2011 campaign with Lazio prompted Beppe Marotta to move for the versatile Swiss full back. He was not phased by the extra pressure on him to help a rejuvenated Juventus bring home the first Scudetto since the 2005-2006 season (subsequently awarded to Inter due to Calciopoli). Equally comfortable defending and attacking, Juve have looked far less capable when he is not in the lineup, and if he can build on the success he’s had this season Marotta will be licking his lips having secured Lichtsteiner for €10m. He would surely fetch double this now.
CDEF: Thiago Silva (AC Milan)
Consistently one of the best defenders not just in Italian football but in the world, Thiago Silva remains a phenomenon. Physically he has everything – pace, agility, strength and a fantastic leap – and combines this with a Baresi-esque ability to read the play, often darting in front of attacking players to pluck out an interception where most defenders would remain goal side and allow their man to receive the ball to feet.
As one might expect from a former attacking payer (he began his career as a right winger) Silva is more than competent when it comes to starting attacks from the back and is always a threat from corners as his magnificent headed goals against Barcelona and Palermo illustrate. Galliani will have to resist Barcelona’s expected overtures for the player this summer as, with Nesta’s departure now confirmed, Silva’s importance to the Rossoneri cannot be under estimated.
CDEF: Andrea Barzagli (Juventus)
Having proved good but by no means outstanding at Palermo, Barzagli tried the road less travelled for Italian players and moved to Wolfsberg in the Bundesliga in 2007. This experience was clearly important to his progression as when he returned to Italy with Juventus in 2010 he looked far more composed and astute as a defender.
He’s held down the starting berth at Juventus this season and whilst he does not have the barnstorming (and often over zealous) style of his defensive partner Giorgio Chiellini, Barzagli has quietly gone about his task and in doing so ensured Juventus have had the tightest defence this season, conceding only 20 goals. At 30, he is peaking at the right time for a central defender and was a certainty for Prandelli’s squad in the summer.
RDEF: Christian Maggio (Napoli)
Il Motorino has certainly lived up to his nickname this season proving to be a fundamental cog in Napoli’s much vaunted counter attacking system under Walter Mazzari. The width he gives the team and the speed he injects into his trademark bursts down the right wing have become fundamentally important to the Partenopei whilst at the same time making the right-back position in the national team his.
It is no coincidence that Napoli’s best Champions League performance (at home to Chelsea) featured the infatigable Maggio and their worst (the return leg of the same fixture) took a turn for the worse when the speedy Italian went off injured. Had his shot in the first leg not been dramatically cleared off the line by Ashley Cole, Napoli’s European adventure could have been prolonged.
CMID: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
After a distinctly average 2010/2011 campaign where it appeared to most that Pirlo’s powers were waning slightly, it remained a surprise that he was not deemed worthy of a contract extension at Milan, despite older players such as Seedorf and Inzaghi staying. Juventus had more confidence in the elegant Brescia native however and brought him in on a free transfer. This move reinvigorated Pirlo, and he began the season looking to prove the top brass at Milanello wrong.
With a midfield often accused of lacking creativity (Aquilani and Boateng have been missed for key chunks of the season), Milan must be wondering how this season might have panned out had Pirlo remained a Rossonero. It will stick in Galliani’s throat that Pirlo topped the league in assists this season with 13. Pirlo’s vision and technique set him aside from most other centrocampisti in the league and his deadball ability means he can always pose a threat. A remarkable season by a player many had almost written off a year ago.
CMID: Sebastian Giovinco (Parma)
Known as the Atomic Ant (Formica Atomica) for his diminutive size, Giovinco has spent several seasons away from parent club Juventus, with loans at Empoli and Parma sandwiching disappointing spells at the Old Lady. That said, there never seemed to be full faith in the Turin native’s talents during his spells at Juve and so after a promising season at Parma on loan, Juve wilfully accepted Parma’s co-ownership offer last summer and this show of faith clearly had an impact on the player. Until February it looked like Parma would have a distinctly average season but Giovinco had other ideas, and it would not be over-emphasising to suggest their 8th place finish was down to Giovinco’s wizardry.
His stunning volley against Siena in the penultimate match of the season is a serious contender for goal of the season and he finished the season with 15 goals and 11 assists. To highlight quite what this meant to the team, the rest of the team collectively managed 10 assists and the second top scorer – Sergio Floccari – failed to make it past 8 goals. A magnificent season and Giovinco has been rewarded with a call up to the Nazionale.
CMID: Arturo Vidal (Juventus)
Signing for Juventus invariably comes with a level of expectation which can see some players struggle to cope (see: Amauri, Melo, Borriello). Given the tussle between Europe’s top clubs for Vidal’s signature, this weight of expectation was only increased. It is testament therefore to the young Chilean’s strength of character that he not only met expectations but exceeded them in a big way.
The €12.5m paid to Bayer Leverkusen last summer now looks like a snip for a player who has become crucial to Juventus’ unbeaten Scudetto run. Despite not being known as a goalscorer, Vidal contributed a very credible 7 goals this term, the highlight being a sweetly struck right footed drive from outside the area at home to Roma. A huge talent who will continue to flourish under Antonio Conte’s tutelage.
ATT: Edinson Cavani (Napoli)
Napoli may not have hit the heights of their magnificent 2010/2011 performance but this has been more down to a porous defence than their magnificent attacking trident, the focal point of which being the oft-unplayable Uruguayan. Combining pace, aerial ability and surgically precise finishing he has been exceptional.
Cavani’s hat-trick against Milan earlier in the season set the tone for his season and whilst Napoli could still bring home silverware in the form of the Coppa Italia, competing on three fronts has taken its toll. Regardless, Cavani’s scoring has been consistent (32 in all competitions this season to add to the 33 last season) and his near-mythical status amongst Napoli fans in the relatively short time he’s been at the club are testament to his huge ability and passion.
ATT: Antonio Di Natale (Udinese)
Another season, another breathtaking display of goalscoring by ‘Toto’. Every summer for the past few years there are murmurs that as his age creeps up, Di Natale won’t be able to keep up his scoring habit. And every subsequent season he proves the doubters wrong! Another sterling season from the Napoletan, who pounces on any sniff of a chance in the penalty area without apology and also provides a significant set piece threat.
Toto has hinted that this summer’s Euro tournament could be his last in professional football. Piermario Morosini’s death weighed heavily on his mind and he has spoken about the strain placed on players’ bodies in the modern game given how many games are now played (Udinese played 51 competitive games this season). A strong performance this summer would be the fitting end to a brilliant season and memorable career.
ATT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (AC Milan)
Nobody could accuse Zlatan of failing to stand up and be counted this season. Continually he has dug Milan out of trouble with his all-action attacking performances. Zlatan really is the full package – and that is borne out by his statistics this year: 28 league goals to earn the capocannoniere (top scorer) title and 9 assists (not to mention 5 assists and 5 goals in 8 Champions League games).
The red card he earned for slapping Salvatore Aronica pointed to the darker side of Zlatan’s game which still hasn’t completely disappeared, but as he wrote in his book (‘I am Zlatan’), Ibra thrives on anger and a feeling of injustice and when he returned from his ban and promptly scored a stunning hatrick against Palermo you could see the evidence of this right before your eyes. Despite a penchant for club-hopping, Zlatan is expected to stay at Milan next season and with his brother-from-another-mother Antonio Cassano now healthy again after his heart operation, next season could prove to be even more fruitful for the Rossoneri number 11.
On the bench:
Sub 1 – Kevin Prince Boateng (AC Milan) – The surprise package at Milan in his debut season, ‘The Prince’ has continued to amaze the San Siro faithful in his second season. Hampered somewhat by injury problems but when he does play his combination of strength, power and technique make him very tough to deal with. Case in point: a 15 minute hat-trick against Lecce to drag Milan from 3-0 down to 3-3 after coming on as a sub – 3 rocket propelled strikes which gave Milan the platform to complete an astounding 4-3 victory. Incredible strikes against Barcelona and Arsenal, as well as an 86th minute goal at home to Genoa to keep the title chase alive showed Boateng possesses the big-game mentality so important at the highest level and at only 25 if he can stay injury free, Milan have an integral piece of their midfield for years to come.
Sub 2 - Mattia Destro (Siena) – An unremarkable season for Siena (they finished 14th) was boosted by a fantastic break-out season for on-loan U21 star Mattia Destro who bagged 12 goals for the Tuscan outfit to help secure their survival. Siena will struggle to retain his services next season and he is expected to return to parent club Genoa.
Sub 3 - Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan) - Signed unexpectedly from Palermo on deadline day for €500,000, Nocerino looked to be a classic Galliani squad player signing, and doubts remained whether he could cut it on the big stage. ‘Noce’ almost immediately dispelled the doubters and became a key part of Milan’s midfield, filling a Gattuso shaped gap when Rino was ruled out for most of the season with a serious nerve injury. Not only did Nocerino bring strength and desire but, quite surprisingly to anyone who had watched him previously, he added goalscoring to his repertoire, scoring 10 league goals. An astonishing feat for a defensive midfielder who had only managed 13 goals in over 200 games prior to this season. May well be a pivotal part of the national team this summer.
Sub 4 - Miroslav Klose (Lazio) – Thought by many to be past his best, Klose took to Serie A like a duck to water and showed he still has that lethal finishing instinct that has seen him average a 1 in 3 goalscoring average over his career. He scored 13 in 25 in the league before injury ended his season – seriously and ultimately fatally derailing Lazio’s push for a Champions League place. If Klose had been fit throughout the campaign they would have undoubtedly lasted the distance in 3rd place.
Sub 5 – Samir Handanovic (Udinese) – No other goalkeeper gets close to Buffon this season but Handanovic is way out ahead of all other challengers in second place with some stunning displays that have propelled Udinese into the Champions League again, despite arguably the worst injury crisis of all teams in the division this season.
See also: Our 2010-2011 Team of the Season and the four players that made both lists….