Serie A End of Season Awards
The Serie A season is over, and so it's time to dish out the awards and honors.
We'll skip the boring stuff that's already been statistically decided. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had top scorer wrapped up a while back, while Andrea Pirlo just managed to edge Fabricio Miccoli to be Serie A's top assist-maker this season.
These awards will be based off the Oscar Del Calcio awards that are handed out on a yearly basis by the Italian Footballers' Association. In addition to the five awards I've taken from that, there are five more categories which I've added myself.
Player of the Year: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
AC Milan may not have won this year's Scudetto, but that's most certainly not the fault of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who turned in the best season of his career.
In just 41 games, Ibrahimovic was a goal machine, recording 35 goals. He also managed to create numerous assists for his teammates, recording 14 in all competitions. Both totals are career highs for the Swede.
Focusing on Serie A action, Ibrahimovic led the way in goals with 28 in just 31 appearances, putting him five goals clear of second-place Edinson Cavani.
His production resulted in him contributing to 38 percent (28-of-74) of his team's goals, a total matched or beaten by only five other players (Diego Milito, Antonio Di Natale, Rodrigo Palacio, German Denis and Stevan Jovetic).
Ironically, Ibrahimovic's best career season in terms of statistical production was his worse in terms of trophies. For the first time in seven seasons, Ibrahimovic failed to win the league title.
Young Player of the Year (U-21): Gaston Ramirez
Miralem Pjanic and Stevan Jovetic both have had very impressive seasons, but the fact that they both turned 22 before the end of the season makes them ineligible for this year's award.
In any case, Gaston Ramirez is a very deserving winner. On a team with very limited talent, Ramirez was able to take Bologna all the way up to ninth place in the league this season. Considering they finished 16th last year with a more productive Marco Di Vaio, that's a massive achievement.
Stars as big as Ramirez don't stay at mid-table Serie A clubs for very long, though. Bologna have already put a £16 million price tag on him, in anticipation of interest from numerous big European clubs, and it is rumored that Liverpool have already met the club's asking price.
Four goals and two assists in his first season in Serie A. Eight goals and five assists in his next season in Serie A. What'll we seen next season?
Coach of the Year: Antonio Conte
No-brainer on this one. Antonio Conte wins this one by a mile. Turning a team that looked hopelessly lost last season into title winners and likely Coppa Italia winners will do that for you.
Conte may have been a bit of an enigma throughout the season, and certainly his personnel decisions have been questionable at times. I'll never understand why guys like Eljero Elia and Milos Krasic were completely shut out while Simone Padoin and Emanuele Giaccherini got playing time.
Reto Ziegler's exit at the start of the season after being bought earlier that summer is another move I will never understand either, given that Paolo De Ceglie is still a very mediocre player and Juventus have no decent left-back as a result.
In the end, though, Conte has far exceeded expectations, and that's all that Juventus fans will really care about when they look back on this season.
Discarded by their respective clubs, Juventus managed to use Andrea Pirlo and Mirko Vucinic to drive their title charge forward, while Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio helped given Juventus arguably the best central midfield in Serie A.
Juventus now have the honor of being only the second Serie A team to ever go undefeated for an entire season, and if they win the Coppa Italia, will be the only team to ever avoid losing in both competitions for an entire season (unless you view their 2-2 draw with AC Milan as a technical loss).
Not bad for Conte's first season on the job.
Best Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
Gianluigi Buffon's error vs Lecce is probably still fresh in the minds of many Serie A watchers. But in truth, it may just be the only error he's committed all season long.
Buffon has been in immaculate form this season. His 0.46 goals allowed average (GAA) is by far the best average in all of Europe. No other goalkeeper, title-winning or not, even comes close.
For perspective, Roman Weidenfeller of Borussia Dortmund had a 0.69 GAA (Manuel Neuer had a 0.67 GAA), Joe Hart had a 0.73 GAA and Iker Casillas had a 0.83 GAA (Victor Valdes had a 0.80 GAA).
After a poor season last year, blighted by injuries and poor form, Buffon is back to his best. Christian Abbiati put up a good fight, but Buffon took the lead in goalkeeping quality and stats early on, and never looked back.
Best Defender: Giorgio Chiellini
As good as Juventus' offense was this season, ultimately it was defense that brought them success this season.
Juventus scored 65 goals this season, a total easily passed by Milan and nearly matched by Napoli. On defense, though, they conceded only 19 goals, 13 goals fewer than Serie A's next best defense (Milan).
Though everyone at Juve deserves praise for their contribution to Juventus' air-tight defense, the most credit (after Gianluigi Buffon) belongs to Giorgio Chiellini.
Even though he hadn't been utilized as a left-back for years prior to this season, he was put into that position this season, and fulfilled his role admirably. When asked to shift back to the center of defense, he had no problem fulfilling his duties in that position either.
He led the team in multiple defensive statistical categories (interceptions per game, clearances per game), and even became a prolific passer, recording the second-most passes on his team after Andrea Pirlo.
Well done, Chiellini, and well deserved. There's a saying that when Juventus does well, Italy does well too. We'll see if Chiellini's good form this season follows him to the Euros.
Best Midfielder: Andrea Pirlo
Arturo Vidal comes in a close second, but nobody else in Serie A really compares with how good Andrea Pirlo has been this season.
We already know of Pirlo's league-leading 13 assists, but his control of the game is most clearly demonstrated by his pass average of 87 passes per game. To give you an idea of how dominating that is, the player with the second-highest pass average is Danielle de Rossi—with 65.6 passes per game.
Pirlo also led the league in key passes (3.5), long balls per game (11.4), and came second in accurate crosses (2.6). Midfield maestro indeed.
Comeback Player of the Year: Diego Milito
This was not an easy selection to make. Numerous players have made remarkable comebacks this season.
Andrea Pirlo's bounce-back from a poor last season with Milan to an MVP-level season with Juventus has been highly impressive. Gianluigi Buffon's return to his best has also a major accomplishment for the Italian.
And outside the top two, Stevan Jovetic's best career season after an entire year out of commission is a great story.
But of all the players available, Diego Milito comes out on top.
After recording only five goals and seven assists last season, many considered Milito to be done and washed up. His last goal in Serie A came in mid-January, and he was unable to score from then on. Injuries also started to pile up for the Argentinian.
This season though, particularly under Andrea Stramaccioni, Milito has been reborn. He's recorded three hat-tricks, including a four-goal performance in Inter's 4-4 draw with Palermo.
He's had his dry spells; from mid-September to January, Milito recorded just a single goal and assist in 10 matches, re-raising concerns that his age had caused him to lose his touch.
But since January, he's proven his doubters wrong, and his latest performance vs AC Milan was absolutely world-class. Hopefully he'll be able to carry his late-season form this year into next year with Inter Milan, despite his advancing age.
Top Overachieving Club: Lazio
It's a shame that Miroslav Klose's injury has hurt Lazio so much. With him, Lazio were cruising, comfortably in third place. Without him, over their last eight games prior to their 2-0 win over Atlanta, they were 2-2-4, falling to sixth before jumping back to fourth with their recent win.
Nevertheless, Lazio's performance this season has been very solid, considering the team's value in comparison with the team values of other teams in Serie A.
Lazio comes in ninth, behind teams like Roma, Fiorentina and Genoa, who have all underperformed this season.
The truth is that Lazio's squad is highly unremarkable. There are a number of decent players, but only Cristian Ledesma, Hernanes and Klose stand out as players of true quality, and Klose of course is in the twilight of his career.
Lazio, despite their late-season meltdown, have done well to be where they are, and should be happy that coach Edy Reja even had them in contention for a Champions League spot with one match to go.
Other clubs that deserve recognition are Bologna as I've already mentioned earlier, and Udinese, who like Lazio had no business competing with Napoli and Inter Milan for a spot in the Champions League.
However, I've selected Lazio over Udinese because Udinese, though under-equipped, do have more skilled and dangerous players than Lazio.
Game of the Season: Inter Milan vs. AC Milan, Matchday 37
Maybe it's just because I live-blogged it, but this was easily the best Serie A game of the season for me, and may have been the best Serie A match I've ever watched.
Close seconds are Napoli's 3-3 draw with Juventus, and Inter's 4-4 draw with Palermo. Milan's 2-2 draw in the second leg of the Coppa Italia with Juventus would certainly be up there too if we were counting Coppa Italia matches.
Goal of the Season: Stefano Mauri vs. Napoli, Matchday 31
This is by far the hardest selection to make, considering there are so many goals to consider. Stefano Mauri's half-bicycle kick volley (I'm not even sure if that's the right way to describe it) stands out among the rest, especially since it came in such a crucial, must-win match for Lazio.
Maicon's derby clincher is obviously among the best goals of Serie A this season, and Arturo Vidal's goal vs Napoli is highly impressive too. A number of Zlatan Ibrahimovic goals, like this one, are probably top-10 contenders as well.