A break from ATP’s normal activity, but when better than the winter break to compile a team of season so far? Here are my 2011-12 Serie A standout performers. Agree/disagree? Please don’t hesitate to make your feelings known, but don’t jump down my throat: everyone has a different opinion, and every calcio site is likely to post a different list.
GK: Samir Handanovic (Udinese)
Earlier this month I suggested that the Slovenian is now among the world’s best goalkeepers. He’s been in excellent form this season, keeping team clean sheets and shipping just nine goals, and his role in Udinese’s excellent season is huge. I’d expect Samir to be playing for a massive club this time next year.
RB: Stephan Lichsteiner (Juventus)
Lichsteiner’s form has been a blessing for Juventus fans after last season’s Marco Motta horror show. The ex-Lazio man has been one of Antonio Conte’s standout performers this season and his bombing runs down the right flank have given Juve a whole new outlet. Equally solid in defence and attack, Lichsteiner is a top full-back.
CB: Andrea Barzagli (Juventus)
Signed in January for under €1m (!), Barzagli has been the best defender in Italy this year. Having failed to reproduce his Palermo form with Wolfsburg, Barzagli is back to his best. His rock-solid performances alongside Leonardo Bonucci have seen Giorgio Chiellini pushed out to left-back and he’s back in the Azzurri frame after a three-year absence.
CB: Thiago Silva (AC Milan)
Praising the Brazilian has almost become cliché. It’s perfectly justified, though: Silva is one of the best CBs around and he’s been typically excellent for Milan this season. A clinical tackler and precision passer (his 90.8% pass success rate is the league’s highest), Thiago Silva is set to be one of the game’s finest for years to come.
LB: Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan)
Inter’s season started slowly but there’s been nothing cumbersome about Nagatomo’s performances. The livewire Japanese international is having a career season and has been instrumental in each of Inter’s last four games. Lucio, Samuel & co. will need replaced sooner rather than later, but Inter’s LB position is well and truly locked down.
RM: Christian Maggio (Napoli)
Maggio is the battery that keeps Napoli’s watch ticking. The three tenors (Cavani, Hamsik & Lavezzi) get most of the attention, but Maggio is arguably Napoli’s most important player. A near-perfect wing-back or winger, Maggio runs the right flank like no other player on the peninsula.
CM: Daniele De Rossi (Roma)
Reborn under Luis Enrique, DDR has overcome last season’s inconsistency to become Roma’s heartbeat once again. De Rossi has been outstanding wherever he’s played (he’s even filled-in at CB this season) and I can only imagine him continuing to improve as Roma grow in stature.
CM: Claudio Marchisio (Juventus)
Tackling, passing, shuttling, scoring… Marchisio does it all. Linking-up with a revitalised Andrea Pirlo and new signing Arturo Vidal, Marchisio has already scored six goals this season. Versatile and tireless, Marchisio is Juve’s most important player and he’s still only 25. A legacy of greatness awaits.
LM: Simone Pepe (Juventus)
Pepe has only played left-wing a couple of times this season but I couldn’t omit this guy. He still has detractors, but Pepe is an invaluable workhorse for a team who value grit and determination above all else. Pepe has scored some vital goals this season and his versatility has seen him occupy five different roles this term. He’ll never be the most technically refined player in Serie A, but Pepe remains a huge asset.
ST: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (AC Milan)
The best player in Italy? Quite possibly. 11 goals and two assists in 13 games have seen him run Milan’s attack almost single-handedly. Zlatan tends to slump around February/March time, but he’s been imperious this season. The most well-rounded centre forward on the planet and a certainty to score at the moment.
ST: German Denis (Atalanta)
Atalanta have been Serie A’s surprise package and their early-season form has much to do with Denis’ goals. The Argentine has scored 12 in 16 to take him to the top of the scoring charts. A remarkable turnaround for a 30-year-old in a newly-promoted team who’d only scored a total of 20 goals in his last four Serie A campaigns.
Hugo Campagnaro (Napoli): Swashbuckling centre-back with a habit of scoring important goals.
Pablo Armero (Udinese): Would’ve been a shoe-in at LB if not for Nagatomo’s recent form. A dynamic, explosive left-flank presence.
Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan): The shuttling midfielder’s six goals and consistency should earn him an Azzurri recall.
Andrea Pirlo (Juventus): The creative maestro is back to his best as Juventus’ conductor.
Antonio Di Natale (Udinese): Death, taxes and Toto scoring – life’s three certainties. 10 goals already for the poacher extraordinaire.