Who's in the team of the (half) season?

Too many players have flattered to deceive so far this season.

Injuries have played a major part, with the likes of Francesco Totti, Ricky Kaka, Gianluigi Buffon and Adrian Mutu a few of the big names who have only featured in fits and starts.

With this in mind, the Serie Aaaaargh! First XI for 2008 takes on a less than familiar look.

Goalkeeper: Marco Amelio has demonstrated that Italy should not fret over Buffon’s ailing health. The Palermo No.1 is big, strong and dominant – and as sly as a fox in a chicken coop when it comes to saving penalties. Best moment: swatting away Ronaldinho’s spot-kick.

Right-back: There is only one candidate and that is Mr Douglas Maicon. More mosh-pit than samba, the Brazilian is a force of nature who has suddenly discovered how to defend. But where he really excels is coming forward: with four goals, he's Inter’s second-top scorer.

Centre-back: This time last season, Walter Samuel’s career looked in ruins after snapping knee ligaments. However, the Argentine isn’t known as “The Wall” for nothing and a return to the Inter backline in November coincided with the Nerazzurri’s vice-like grip over their rivals.

Centre-back: As befits a religious fellow, Nicola Legrottaglie has been born again. For so long derided as the weak link in the Juventus defence, the 32-year-old has been as solid as a cathedral door for Claudio Ranieri.

Left-back: Always a tricky position at the best of times and with no outstanding candidates it’s Cristian Molinaro of Juventus who gets the nod. Naturally left-footed, he can whip in the odd decent cross, but it's the improvement in the defensive side of his game that's caught the eye.

Molinaro (left) and Legrottaglie: Credit where it's due

Right-midfield: Giuseppe Sculli is something of a late developer. Now 27, the Genoa man was tipped as a star of the future as a Juventus youth striker but converted to a wide position under Gian Piero Gasperini, and allies work-rate with an eye for goal, having netted six times so far.

Defensive midfield: Ivan Cambiasso does it all: covers back, passes, tackles and generally makes everything look so easy. The Argentine has overcome an early-season injury to keep Inter ticking over at the top of the table.

Attacking midfield: Cristiano Doni may be a throwback to a time when a fancy-dan was allowed to do what he pleased, but the Atalanta veteran has the experience to go with the touch and vision to turn any game. Comes with the added bonus of being as deadly from free-kicks as Alex del Piero or Ronaldinho.

Left-midfield: Marek Hamsik has eclipsed big names like Pavel Nedved and Clarence Seedorf out on the left and emerged as one of the most exciting talents in European football. Often arriving in the area from a deep-lying position, the 21-year-old is Napoli’s joint-top scorer with seven goals.

Hamsik: Models himself on Gary Lineker

Striker: Diego Milito has lived up his nickname of “The Prince” in Genoa, turning in a regal performance in each of his 15 league appearances to finish 2008 as Serie A joint-top scorer on 12 goals. Sheer class and a noble calmness in front of goal.

Striker: From "The Prince" to “The King”. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has reigned over the first part of the season, not only with his spectacular goals but a new-found work ethic that has turned the Swede into a man of the people while at the same time regaining that imperious haughtiness that stands him out from the masses.

Coach: He came, he saw, he conquered. Jose Mourinho has shaken Serie A out of the inertia of recent seasons and only the Special One could manage such a special team. Thankfully, the Portuguese has toned down the sarcasm without losing that trademark self-satisfied smirk.


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