As 2013 draws to a close, it provides us with a perfect opportunity to reflect on the past year and the great players we have seen in Italian football throughout the previous 12 months. While it is difficult to judge players on what they have accomplished throughout a calendar year, the Serie A winter break allows for a period of reflection on what we have seen thus far.
Over the following pages are the players I believe have been the best 2013-14 has given us thus far. Let me know what changes you would make to my side, lining up in a 4-3-3 formation.
The 21-year-old remains a backup choice for the Azzurrini as Francesco Bardi continues to be given the nod, but his performances for Genoa thus far deserve recognition. While the Rossoblu were expected to be among the candidates for relegation, the return of coach Gian Piero Gasperini has seen them climb up to 10th place, and the goalkeeper has played a vital role.
According to the FoxSoccer website, only Rafael of Hellas has made more saves than the 73 Mattia Perin has managed, and only four goalkeeper’s have kept more clean sheets.
His most notable performance came in the 1-1 draw with Milan at San Siro, a man-of-the-match display in which the home side had almost 40 shots on goal yet failed to win. The Rossoneri could do much to improve their team by picking up the Latina native this month.
The Brazilian has thrown off the bad memory of his stint with Manchester City and hit form immediately upon returning to the peninsula last summer. He has played a major part in Rudi Garcia’s transformation of the Giallorossi, providing width, attacking impetus and a defensive solidity to the right flank, which has been essential to their impressive form thus far.
Now boasting the best defence in Europe’s top five leagues, Roma will press on in the New Year looking to challenge Juventus for the title and secure Champions League football for next season.
Maicon has been, and will continue to be vital to those aims, offering far more than the 2.1 tackles and 1.2 interceptions he averages (according to WhoScored.com statistics). His dribbling has been hugely effective, and he has formed a sound understanding with Miralem Pjanic, who is usually ahead of him in midfield.
Andrea Barzagli only narrowly holds off team-mate Giorgio Chiellini for a place alongside Mehdi Benatia, the Juve man has been impeccable so far this term.
Hugely underrated outside Italy, the 32-year-old has shaken off some early injury concerns to display the same incredible consistency he has displayed since arriving in Turin back in January 2011. Since that €300,000 move, he has featured over 100 times for the club, and it is hard to recall him ever making a mistake in the famous black and white stripes.
Averages of 1.7 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game in 2013-14 fail to highlight just how great his positional sense and reading of the game have become for the 2006 World Cup winner, a player now clearly at the peak of his career.
The former Palermo captain has also become an adept passer of the ball under Antonio Conte, making an average of 67.6 passes per game at a completion rate of 90.4 percent.
Another who forms a key component of the resilient Giallorossi back line, the Moroccan international has also been one of the summer’s best transfer moves. Arriving from Udinese for €13.5 million, he has been ever-present so far this term, not only bolstering the defence but contributing goals too.
His four strikes make him joint top scorer for second-placed Roma, but it is in protecting the goal where he has excelled. WhoScored.com statistics show he averages 2.1 tackles, 3.1 interceptions and 5.8 clearances per game, while he has also won 50 of the 75 aerial duels in which he has competed.
He also managed to finish on the losing side just twice during the 2013, an incredible achievement.
Another unglamorous name, the form of the Torino full-back has seen him linked with a number of high-profile clubs as his current contract expires this summer. Talks over a new deal have broken down and either Milan or Roma seem set to lure him away in January as the Granata seek to avoid losing him for nothing at the end of the season.
Both clubs have seen his form improve dramatically under Giampiero Ventura and are further impressed by his ability to function as both an orthodox full-back or a wing-back on either flank whenever he is asked.
Equally adept with either foot, the 25-year-old is certainly a name to look out for in the coming weeks, as he has been all year, averaging 2.1 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per game, while providing a steady stream of quality crosses.
Perhaps the most difficult choice among my midfield trio, such was the impressive form of Juve’s Paul Pogba and Jorginho of Hellas, but it is hard to overlook the Spaniard’s importance to Vincenzo Montella’s Viola.
Much like the Bianconeri march to the beat of Andrea Pirlo’s drum, the immaculate Borja Valero undoubtedly sets the tempo for Fiorentina, making no less than 64.2 passes per game at no less than an 87 percent completion rate (stats via WhoScored.com).
In recent weeks he has captained the side, but he has been leading them all season, contributing five goals and six assists as he lifts the team into contention for a Champions League berth. It is incredible to imagine, having seen him perform so well since he arrived from Villarreal back in August of 2012, that his only Spain cap came almost three years ago.
Appearances: 12 (plus two as a substitute)
Simply put, the Chilean is the best midfielder in the world right now. No other player can rival his contributions at both end of the pitch, his relentless energy and passion, nor his ability to play in such a wide variety of roles. Since landing in Turin, no Juventus player has scored more goals while he has featured—and impressed—in central defence, at left-back and in a variety of midfield roles.
Currently leading Serie A with 73 tackles according to WhoScored.com, Arturo Vidal has added seven goals and four assists in the league, while netting a further five times in the Champions League, a tally that included the first hat-trick of his career. With a new long-term contract in place, Juventus have seemingly secured not just the future of the 26-year-old, but also their own.
A contender for signing of the season, the Dutchman has been in incredible form for the Giallorossi, settling in quickly to become a regular in Rudi Garcia’s starting lineup and paying early dividends on the €17 million it cost to bring him to the capital. The former PSV Eindhoven has contributed four goals and six assists already as Roma got off to a blistering start to the 2013-14 season.
The 23-year-old has also made an average of 3.6 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per game thus far, according to stats site WhoScored.com.
Kevin Strootman has also completed 60.5 passes per game at a completion rate of 88.2 percent and forged a good understanding with fellow new arrival Gervinho, who often features ahead of him in attack.
Appearances: 15 (plus two as a substitute)
While Juventus disappointed in the Champions League, they have continued to dominate domestically, and no person personifies that more than Carlos Tevez.
Goalless in six appearances in Europe’s elite completion—a fact much more reflective of the Bianconeri’s early struggles than his own form—he has no fewer than 11 goals in Serie A. That tally is higher than any striker has managed in a single season since Antonio Conte arrived, and we’re not even at the halfway stage yet!
Factor in four assists and a man-of-the-match performance in the Italian Super Cup, and the player who has replaced Alessandro Del Piero in the No. 10 shirt has undoubtedly lived up to the prowess of his predecessor. He will need to take them further in Europe next season to truly fulfil his promise, but Tevez has been a vital addition for the two-time Champions of Italy.
Appearances: 16 (plus one as a substitute)
In most seasons, an incredible back-heeled flick winner in the Milan derby would punctuate a fixture that is as glamorous as it gets in world football, but 2013 is a year both San Siro clubs will hope to forget quickly. Each has performed way below their usual standard, and the fact that Rodrigo Palacio is the only member of either squad to content for a spot on this team speaks volumes to that end.
However, as poor as the Milan cousins have been, the Argentinean striker has been excellent for the Nerazzurri, leading them to fifth place thanks to 10 goals and five assists.
He has performed a variety of roles for new coach Walter Mazzarri and can expect to do the same for his country at this summer’s World Cup. He may not be as big a star as some members of that side, but the Inter striker will be hugely important and narrowly held off Gonzalo Higuain for the final slot in my team.
Now recovered from two knee operations that kept him off the pitch for over a year, Giuseppe Rossi has been in devastating form for the Viola in 2013-14. His 14 goals in 17 games are more than any striker in the league, and his hat-trick in the 4-2 demolition of bitter rivals Juventus has already secured his place in the hearts of Fiorentina supporters.
Another player set to shine at the World Cup, his partnership with Mario Balotelli could be key to the Azzurri’s chances in Brazil, where Cesare Prandelli will lean heavily on his prodigious talent.
With Montella—himself a brilliant former goal poacher—guiding him at club level, the two coaches provide the perfect blend of expertise and experience to bring the best from this truly gifted striker.
This was undoubtedly the toughest spot on the team, with Gasperini (Genoa), Ventura (Torino) and, of course, Antonio Conte or Rudi Garcia clearly in contention. All four would have been worthy winners as they have led their teams wonderfully thus far, skilfully negotiating the challenges before them and shining brightly in a campaign that has been hard-fought and difficult on all fronts.
Yet I have opted for the Spaniard over them all, largely in order to recognise the way he has revolutionised this Napoli side. Shorn of the incredible prowess of Edinson Cavani, many wondered how the southern club would cope, but losing Walter Mazzarri was an equally difficult prospect, his counter-attacking style and 3-4-2-1 formation defined this club, and Benitez has not only tried to replace it, he has also improved the team.
In the space of a few months, he has implemented his trademark 4-2-3-1 formation and integrated new signings Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens as if they had graced the San Paolo for years.
Hugely unfortunate to bow out of the Champions League with 12 points, Benitez is ensuring they return to the competition next season.