Serie A Team of the Year: A Brazilian gem, a non-stop flurry of energy, and a former West Brom star
Although Juventus storming their way to the defence of their title was perhaps somewhat predictable, the Serie A season just gone produced a number of surprises, and that is reflected in the Serie Aaaaargh! Team of the Year.
A 3-4-2-1 formation may now be in vogue throughout Italy, but weÃ¢ÂÂll invert the front three and go with a 3-4-1-2.
In goal we have Federico Marchetti of Lazio. Just a couple of years ago, it seemed as if the big time had passed the imposing shot-stopper by. Frozen out at Cagliari on his return from the World Cup in South Africa, a move to the Capital has seen him not only return to the Azzurri fold, but also play a vital role in Lazio qualifying for Europe with their Italian Cup win. His mid-air twisting save to push over a deflected shot from Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal was the highlight of his season.
The first spot in the three-man defence belongs to one of the revelations of the campaign: AS RomaÃ¢ÂÂs Marquinhos. Arriving in Italy last summer as an unknown 18-year-old, the Brazilian was thrust into the GiallorossiÃ¢ÂÂs fragile backline after just two rounds, and from there was a ever-present. His raw pace, clean challenges and a maturity under pressure have already seen him linked with a move to Barcelona. Without doubt the find of the year.
A genuine old head commands the centre of the defence. Andrea BarzagliÃ¢ÂÂs unruffled performances seemed to suggest he never had to break a sweat. Yet what the Juventus man lacked in pace, he made up for in positional aptitude, as once again the champions possessed the meanest defence in the league, conceding just 24 goals.
Alongside Barzagli is the master of destruction - Juve and Italy team-mate Giorgio Chiellini, who continued to stifle the best strikers in the league with his overpowering physical presence. However, this year also saw a more subtle approach, especially going forward - he provided an outlet down the left, not to mention an aerial threat at set-pieces. His powerful header at Napoli in March silenced the San Paolo early on in the crucial top-of-the-table clash.
Sweeping forward along the right of the four-man midfield is the revitalized Alessio Cerci. The 25-year-old seemed set be consigned to the wasted talent drawer on his arrival at Torino from Fiorentina, but instead he decided he enjoyed tormenting defenders more than his own coach. Naturally left-footed with pace to burn, the former AS Roma starlet regularly tore down the flank before cutting inside to unleash a telling in-swinging cross or curled shot. His form also propelled him into the Italy squad.
On the right side of the centre of midfield there could only be one man - Arturo Vidal. A non-stop flurry of energy for Juventus, the midfielder combines a combative nature with a deft pass and skillful dribbling. More than a protector for Andrea Pirlo, the Chilean took control of matters going forward too, and his ten goals made him the championsÃ¢ÂÂ joint-top goalscorer alongside Mirko Vucinic.
Linking with the all-action Vidal is the fleet-footed Borja Valero. Every so often a player slips under the radar and just goes about his business in such an orderly manner that his performances cannot go unnoticed for long. The Spaniard is one such player, in a free-flowing Fiorentina side. He may have only scored one league goal, but he provided 11 assists and made over 1,800 passes through the campaign.
Operating on the left, but with the freedom to drift inside and the tactical astuteness to ensure that the team does not become unbalanced, is Marek Hamsik. The Napoli star can drop back to pick the ball up from one of the defenders, but has been much more effective further forward on the left where he managed 11 goals in the league for the runners-up and finished second in the assist table, on 14.
With a combination of pragmatism and creativity in midfield, the front three should be able to run amok. But to link the two areas we need the pivotal point of the team - and that is Francesco TottiÃ¢ÂÂs domain. The AS Roma captain had his best season on a personal level, moving into second place in the all-time Serie A goalscoring list on 227 goals. His 12 goals and 12 assists kept the Giallorossi in the hunt for a European place right down to the Italian Cup final.
On the end of TottiÃ¢ÂÂs final pass are Antonio Di Natale and Edinson Cavani. Like Totti, Di Natale may be in the twilight years of his career, but the Udinese captain still found the net on 23 occasions as the side from Friuli made a late charge to grab the final Europa League spot.
Only Cavani could outdo Di Natale in the goalscoring stakes, and the Napoli frontman netted 29 of his sideÃ¢ÂÂs 79 goals in the league as the Azzurri completed their best campaign since the Diego Maradona era. The Uruguayan was also the first-ever player to score hat-tricks against Juventus, AC Milan and Inter. It is no wonder Naples is trembling with fear that the leagueÃ¢ÂÂs Capocannoniere (top scorer) will leave in the summer.
The starting XI certainly has an attacking feel to it, and so who better to get the best out of such an array of talent than Vincenzo Montella. The Fiorentina coach produced the most entertaining brand of football in the league and only a late AC Milan win at Siena denied the Viola a place in the preliminary round of the Champions League.