Joe Ciraco’s Serie A Team of the Year
Best XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Dani Alves, Bonucci, Caldara, Alex Sandro; Nainggolan, Gagliardini, Hamsik; Mertens; Dzeko, Belotti
Manager: Maurizio Sarri (Napoli)
Goalkeeper: What more can you say about the Italian legend? At the age of 39, Gianluigi Buffon is the world’s best goalkeeper and has dominated domestically and in Europe. Buffon let in a league low 24 goals total this past season looking as good as ever.
Defence: No surprises that Juventus dominate the defense of the year. Leonardo Bonucci is arguably the best centre back in the world. He has the ability to tackle and mark his man with finesse and can pass the ball as well as anyone. Dani Alves had a slow start to the campaign, looking old and out of place. However, he exploded in the second half providing a lift on the right side with his pinpoint crosses and goalscoring prowess, while improving defensively by the game. Alex Sandro has developed into one of the best left backs in world football. Not only does he jump up in the play, he is also rarely caught out of position. He is like a defensive Roberto Carlos. The surprise of this list is Mattia Caldara, part of the ‘Cinderella’ Atalanta team that qualified for the Europa League. At the age of 23, he can flawlessly tackle and is an aerial threat, not only to clear the ball but also to score; he had an impressive 7 goals this season. He will remain at Atalanta for one more season before he joins, who else? Juventus.
Midfield: Roberto Gagliardini was one of the revelations of the season. Shouldering the load in a young Atalanta midfield, Gagliardini led Atalanta to a great start in the first half of the season. He was sold to Inter in January, wearing a lofty purchase label to the Milanese club where he did not skip a beat. He was Inter’s best player in many of their matches to close out their disappointing campaign. A great box-to-box midfielder, the Italian can defend and jump up in attack similar to Paul Pogba. Radja Nainggolan has been one of Serie A’s best midfielders for the last several years, but this season may have been his best yet. The Belgian can score with a lethal shot and has the intelligence to jump into play and make the perfect pass in addition to being a hard nosed tackler. Marek Hamsik has quietly been one of the best Serie A players over the last decade. The Napoli captain puts his heart on his sleeve and despite age creeping up, he can still play with the best of them. Crisp passing, an eye for goal and influential enough to will Napoli to their best Serie A points total in club history.
Forwards: Dries Mertens was not supposed to have this kind of season. After a gruesome injury to teammate Arek Milik, the little Belgian magician was reinvented as a ‘false 9’ and was clinical, finishing as ‘capocannoniere‘ runner up scoring 28 goals and 9 assists. Partnering him up front is Torino star Andrea Belotti who had a breakthrough season. Il Gallo finished with 26 goals and had the most of the headed variety in the top 5 European leagues. At 23 years of age, his star is only beginning to shine. Finally, we end off with Edin Dzeko the surprise Golden Boot winner. After a disappointing first season in the Capital scoring only 8 goals, the Bosnian buried an impressive 29 in 16/17. His clinical presence in front of goal with both his head and feet catapulted Roma to a team record 87 point season – and a UEFA Champions League Group Stage birth.
Coach: If it weren’t for Juventus, Napoli may have been wearing the Scudetto patch next season. Scoring a league high 94 goals and playing some of the most attractive football in Europe is no easy task, yet Sarri was able to get the most of his talented players going with an up-tempo all out offensive style. Sarri got his tactics spot on compensating for Milik’s injury by playing Mertens as a false 9. He was also able to get the most out of Lorenzo Insigne while rejuvenating Marek Hamsik’s career. Napoli were well managed and a treat to watch this season. His next move will be to patch up a leaky backline. If he can do that, the Partenopei may finally be able to unseed Juventus next season as Scudetto winners.