With Serie A having entered a fortnight’s hiatus following week 17, it’s time to take stock of the season’s best up to the present.
Juventus sit atop the table in defence of two straight domestic crowns, buoyed by summer reinforcements in attack to build on a side already quite clearly the strongest in the peninsula.
Surprise packages have come in the form of AS Roma, second on the table under new boss Rudi Garcia with an undefeated record, and newly-promoted cavaliers Hellas Verona, who sit just two points outside the top five on the merits of a squad that blends young talent with veteran know-how.
Meanwhile, Rafael Benitez has guided Napoli to third place ahead of the new year in the stead of Walter Mazzarri, himself having resurrected Inter following a rancid campaign last term as Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina continue to develop in pursuit of the Champions League places alongside the Nerazzurri.
Yet whilst it’s the collective success of collectives that will ultimately determine the outcome of the campaign, the proper moment to deconstruct and highlight crucial cogs is upon us.
And so, following is the Serie A team of the season to date.
Goalkeeper: Morgan De Sanctis, Roma
The Giallorossi’s signing of De Sanctis was met with a measure of scepticism from observers as Napoli allowed the veteran shot stopper to walk away for a nominal fee to pursue other options, but the 36-year-old has so far proven his detractors wrong. Playing behind Serie A’s meanest defence certainly has made the Italian’s job markedly easier, though remaining aware for limited action in each game is a great task in and of itself and he’s pulled off some equally spectacular saves when called upon to firmly establish himself as Serie A’s most decisive goalkeeper in the first four months of the term.
Right-back: Danilo D’Ambrosio
D’Ambrosio features at right-back in this particular set-up as it’s his natural position, though he’s almost exclusively seen action this season on the left due to the needs of Torino boss Giampiero Ventura. His contract at the Stadio Olimpico expires next summer in a situation that has Serie A’s top clubs clamouring for his signature in January, as his demonstrated versatility sees him able to bring his trademark lung-bursting runs to either flank, with a high level of consistency representing the most valuable trait in his locker.
Centre-back: Mehdi Benatia, AS Roma
Arguably never given his due during his time at Udinese because of the perennial overachievers’ provincial status, Benatia has taken life in the Italian capital by storm under Garcia to marshal the forces of the most miserly defence in Serie A. Both by land or by air the Moraccan has been nearly unbeatable, handcuffing the most prolific strikers in the division with regularity and getting forward at every opportunity with feet uncharacteristically skillful for a centre-back to net four times for the Giallorossi.
Centre-back: Giorgio Chiellini
It’s a well known fact at this point in Serie A that the road to defeating Juventus runs through Chiellini, and in turn the fact that the Bianconeri have lost just once to date speaks for itself. The enduring spiritual leader of Antonio Conte’s side, his full-throttle, no-nonsense style continues to epitomise the philosophy implemented at the club by his boss on the touchline, with top performances against Udinese, Bologna and Atalanta the greatest demonstrations of his class as the Turin giants have won nine straight to close out 2013.
Left-back: Boukary Drame, Chievo
The campaign has indeed been rather unsettling for the Stadio Bentegodi outfit, but the underappreciated Paris Saint-Germain youth product has steadily proven his quality once more to sit as the league’s leading left back against all odds. Drame always seems to reserve his most impressive showings for the big boys of the division, having troubled Fiorentina, Juventus and Napoli greatly with his ability to turn defence into attack and mental toughness in the face of prolific opposition.
Defensive midfield: Kevin Strootman, AS Roma
Brought to the Stadio Olimpico in one of Europe’s most impressive deals of the summer, the former Manchester United target has more than justified the £17 million in wasting no time certifying himself as a dominant presence in the centre of the park. Serving as the balance between the power and finesse of Giallorossi midfield mates Daniele Rossi and Miralem Pjanic, Strootman has proven himself the genuine box-to-box article as he’s had a hand in nearly a third of his side’s goals whilst closing down opposition forays forward with constant regularity.
Defensive midfield: Arturo Vidal, Juventus
Paul Pogba continues to grab the attention of Europe’s financial elite as the latest midfielder to flourish in the centre of the park for Juventus, but it’s Vidal that remains the driving force at the heart of Conte’s 3-5-2 formation. The Chilean got off to an auspicious start with a brace and further assist on opening day against Lazio and hasn’t looked back, having netted a total of seven times on the term whilst ranking third in tackles in the Italian top flight with 49.
Attacking midfield: Carlos Tevez
Nearly retiring after a difficult final overture with Manchester City, Juventus swooped to bring the distinctive Argentine to Turin as the solution to the need for a clinical edge up front. Ever an indomitable engine up front, Tevez has come good for the Bianconeri to hit 11 goals, good for second on the Serie A scoring charts, whilst rolling in his creative side to act as a perfect complement in support of the powerful Fernando Llorente.
Attacking midfield: Ricky Alvarez, Inter
Previously an object of malaise from Nerazzurri supporters for his inconsistency and unfulfilled potential, Alvarez has been reborn with Walter Mazzarri at the helm at San Siro. Tipped to be kept out of the starting eleven by 19-year-old Mateo Kovacic prior to the beginning of the season, it’s been the Argentine that has instead left the Croatian teenager out in the cold, masterminding Inter’s attacking ventures from his central midfield role to score four goals and tally six assists.
Attacking midfield: Alessio Cerci, Torino
Once seen as one of Serie A’s greatest busts for his inability to overcome immaturity and inconsistency after having drawn comparisons with Thierry Henry as a youngster, Cerci reinvented himself at Torino last term and has continued a meteoric rise back to prominence in the current campaign. With pace to burn, vision at his disposal and a newfound clinical touch in front of goal, the Italy international has tallied nine goals and six assists to have a hand in more than 50% of the Granata’s scoring to catch the eye of several top Premier League clubs.
Striker: Giuseppe Rossi, Fiorentina
The quintessential comeback story, Rossi has rebounded from an horrific stretch in his career that saw him spend 19 months sidelined with consecutive catastrophic knee injuries to lead Serie A in goals with 14 through the first 17 games of the fixture list. He’s taken on all comers from free-kicks, the penalty spot and open play to re-announce himself as one of Europe’s most complete strikers, his campaign highlighted by a brilliant second half hat-trick against arch rivals Juventus on October 20 to lead the Viola to victory from a 2-0 deficit.
image: © ell-r-brown