Serie A's Best XI from the 2012-13 Season
And so another Serie A season draws to a close. 2012-13 has been one of the liveliest league campaigns on the peninsula for some time, with plenty of high-flying drama and under-performing despair from Italian football's main protagonists.
So what of a Serie A best XI? Picking one is no easy task. There are shining examples of the craft at most teams, and as is always the way with a list like this, whoever's left out is bound to cause more discussion than those who make the final cut.
Having lead Juventus to another Scudetto in resounding fashion and acquitted himself honourably in the Champions League, it's only fair that Antonio Conte be named as the coach for these Serie A all-stars. But how many of his Bianconeri outfit deserve to feature? Read on to find out.
NB: For the sake of fashion, we're going with a rough 3-5-2 here, to reflect the league's growing trend of three-man back lines. Some players on the list might not always feature in the position they've been selected in. It's a dream team; compromises must be made ...
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
This veteran shot-stopper is many ways the ultimate keeper. Extremely gifted, intelligent and a leader of men to boot, Gianluigi Buffon would be a welcome addition to any team.
Buffon has been at Juventus since 2001 and at 35, is still playing at the very highest level. How long he can continue is anyone's guess, but both Conte and Italy boss Cesare Prandelli will be hoping he has a few years left in the tank yet.
During this campaign, Buffon marshaled a defence that conceded fewer goals than anyone else, kept more clean sheets and lost fewer games. What more could you want?
Honourable mentions go to Parma's Antonio Mirante, who saved more penalties than anyone else this season (three) and Ivan Pelizzoli at Pescara, who faced more shots but conceded fewer goals than anyone else in the league based on minutes played. Pelizzoli was once tipped as a genuine rival for Buffon's Italy jersey, and though he never lived up to his early promise, it was nice to see him impress during his rare Serie A starts.
Also worthy of a mention is Pelizzoli's team mate, the 20-year-old Mattia Perin. The young keeper from just south of Rome is owned by Genoa and endured a Serie A baptism of fire this term at strugglers Pescara, but he's tipped for big things despite letting in more goals than any other keeper. There are even reports that Arsenal are willing to spend upwards of £17 million for his services according to the Daily Mail.
Torino's Matteo Darmian
No one in Serie A made more successful tackles this season that Torino's promising young defender Matteo Darmian.
The 23-year-old from Legnano in the north of Italy is co-owned by Palermo, who having been relegated will wish that the classy defender had been lining out for them this season. Darmian played 30 games for Torino in total, rarely putting a foot wrong and often contributing key interceptions and clearances while avoiding being overly physical.
Sure, there are higher-profile defenders in the league, at teams who conceded less and finished higher in the table. But this list is about exemplary individuals. For proof of his worth, see WhoScored.com, who claim that he was Europe's best tackler this year.
Juve's Andrea Barzagli
The 32-year-old Andrea Barzagli was flawless this season for Juventus, appearing in all but five of the Old Lady's league games. The former Palermo and Wolfsburg centre-back also had to do without Giorgio Chiellini at key moments during the season, a loss that few defences could cope with.
Had Chiellini been fit throughout the campaign, he would probably be here in Barzagli's place because the Juve vice-captain was imperious whenever he featured. But having seen action in just over half of his team's games this term, fitness keeps him out of the league's best XI. This time at least.
Roma's Marcos Aoas Correa is proof that stats can only tell you so much about football. The records show the young Brazilian to have been part of an incredibly leaky defence, but when you play for Zdenek Zeman and then a caretaker manager, that's to be expected.
Few defenders have taken to life in Serie A quite like Marquinhos. At just 19, the Brazilian was brought to the capital with an eye to the future, but through his incredible performances and remarkable maturity he quickly cemented a place in the first team, at the expense of veteran Argentinian centre-back Nicolas Burdisso, no less.
It's not for nothing that media outlets like Marca have linked the player to Barcelona, after all.
Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado on the Right
For many neutrals, this season has been all about Vincenzo Montella's Fiorentina. The young coach has played some of the most exciting football on the continent, exceeding expectations and building a formidable team on a limited budget in Florence.
Juan Cuadrado came to Tuscany on loan from Udinese and has made himself indispensable to the Viola. His pace, dribbling ability and excellent crosses have all been huge factors in Fiorentina's success this term, as has the ease in which he slots into the various roles up and down the flank for Montella.
Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo in the Centre
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal are one of the best midfield pairings in world football and it would be unthinkable to have a best XI from this season without the Juventus duo.
Vidal was named the Bianconeri's player of the season recently, and it's easy to see why. Though occasionally a little too enthusiastic in the tackle—as evidenced by the 11 yellow cards to his name this term—the Chilean was a constant threat for Juve, providing plenty of assists and scoring 10 goals in the league, six of them game winners.
In all, the 25-year-old bagged 15 goals in all competitions and found rich form in the closing part of the league campaign, finding the back of the net against Lazio, Milan, Torino and Palermo.
Pirlo lines up beside him in this best XI, well, because he's Pirlo. Obviously.
Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy on the Left
Stephan El Shaarawy set the early part of the season alight, and those his potency in front of goal dimmed somewhat following the arrival of Mario Balotelli at the San Siro, there's no doubt that Milan have a genuine superstar on their hands for the years to come.
The Faraone's 34 appearances for Max Allegri's Rossoneri this term yielded 16 goals and four assists, one of the best attacking records in the league, and all from a player who thrives out on the wings where his blend of intelligence, pace and passing ability are a nightmare for opposing full-backs to contain.
Fiorentina's Stevan Jovetic in Attacking Midfield
Following another stellar season for Fiorentina, Stevan Jovetic is one of Europe's hottest properties. The Montenegrin has been linked to some of the continent's biggest sides following 13 goals and five assists for Vincenzo Montella's attacking, entertaining side.
The Viola have admitted that they would consider selling him this summer, but they've set the price high for one of the most talented players ever to pull on the famous purple shirt according to the Telegraph.
Roma's Francesco Totti as Second Striker
Like Pirlo, no Serie A best XI would be complete without Francesco Totti. The Roma legend has been in vintage form this season too, so while he would always be a choice for the romantics, his performances for the Giallorossi this term mean he's here on merit.
It was a year of breaking records for the 36-year-old, who is now Serie A's second highest all-time scorer despite spending much of his career as a classic No. 10 rather than a striker.
12 goals and 12 assists is impressive in its own right, but the stats only tell part of the story with a player like Totti. His deft flicks, ingenious passes and ability to create something from nothing all mean that you need more than just the numbers to quantify this player's true value.
Napoli's Edinson Cavani Up Front
Last but not least, the least surprising selection in this XI. Edinson Cavani has been absolutely magic for Napoli this season and it's no wonder that he's now being linked to Europe's biggest clubs.
The Uruguayan has 29 goals to his name from 31 games this season, almost 40 percent of the entire team's total. Cavani is the complete striker: strong, fast and lethally accurate in front of goal. He's been man of the match eight times this term, and produced many more match-winning performances besides. The best player in the league for 2012-13, and one with few equals in the football world.