Serie A focus

Serie A Team of the Season

May 18, 2011
By Adam Digby, ESPN.com

While Milan sealed the Scudetto after all their challengers fell away, the Champions League and relegation battle in Italy's top division seem set to go to the last week of fixtures. Superb seasons from Udinese, Napoli and Lazio have been in stark contrast to poor showings from Juventus, Inter and, most disappointingly, Sampdoria.

Thiago Silva
GettyImagesThiago Silva is rated as one of the best defenders of his age in world football

With just one game left to play, we thought it would be a good time to pick the best starting XI in the league. There's a caveat: We limited ourselves to one player per team, so that we could recognise the outstanding contributions of players no matter where their teams happen to be in the Serie A table. So here is our Serie A Best XI:

Goalkeeper: Stefano Sorrentino, Chievo

The 32-year-old was voted goalkeeper of the year by the Italian Goalkeeping Coaches Association last season and has continued that superb form this season, making the third-highest amount of saves and sitting fourth in the clean-sheet table. Although his team, Chievo, are 14th in Serie A, only three higher-ranked teams (Milan, Lazio and Napoli) have conceded fewer goals. Sorrentino has played a huge role in that success.

Defender: Mauricio Isla, Udinese

Perhaps not the first full back you would name among Serie A's better performers this season and certainly not the best Chilean player at Udinese, Isla has nonetheless been an essential player in Francesco Guidolin's system. He's done a superb job against some of the league's best players. Technically and tactically adept, Isla has been consistently good in every game.

Defender: Thiago Silva, Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic might have scored the goals that fired Milan to the title, but without the Brazilian, the Rossoneri would be nowhere near snatching the tricolore from their city cousins. He's been instrumental in his side conceding only 24 goals all season. What's more, Milan have lost only twice with him in the line-up. An experiment to utilise him in midfield also saw him thrive. Simply put, Silva is irreplaceable for the San Siro giants.

Defender: Alessandro Gamberini, Fiorentina

Much like Silva, he is the rock upon which his team is built, a reliable leader in a young backline that also has had to overcome the serious injury suffered by the usually excellent Sebastien Frey in goal. That the Viola lost two of the three games Gamberini missed should be no surprise.

Defender: Federico Balzaretti, Palermo

One of the best defenders on the peninsula, he also is seventh in the league in assists. Balzaretti has controlled the whole left flank for Palermo so well this season that he's made a strong case that he should be included in the new-look Italian national team.

Midfielder: Marco Parolo, Cesena

In less than two years, Parolo has gone from third division obscurity to being an Italy international. Cesena bought half his contract from Chievo for €300,000, which is probably not even 10% of his current value. Parolo is a tenacious and versatile midfielder who most certainly will not return to the lower divisions no matter the fate of his club.

Midfielder: Hernanes, Lazio

From avoiding relegation last season to the brink of the Champions League this time around, Lazio have competed with a largely unchanged squad. Well, except for one key addition. Lazio's turnaround can be traced to August 6, 2010, the day 'The Prophet' arrived, which in itself was a surprise, given he had all but signed for Inter before the Aquile announced their capture of the former Sao Paulo playmaker. Hernanes has been a revelation. His six assists and 11 goals fail to tell the tale of his impact, as Hernanes has been at the heart of everything good for one of the league's most surprising sides.

Midfielder: Felipe Melo, Juventus

Last season's woes are well and truly behind Melo. He has been perhaps the one constant for a struggling Bianconeri side this season, with coach Luigi Del Neri almost solely responsible for the turnaround in his form. By asking much less of the Brazilian, Del Neri has reaped the rewards, as his anchor has been neat in possession, confident in the tackle and intelligent in his passing. Now showing the form that made him much sought after two years ago, Melo's continued absence from the international scene looks more and more ill-advised.

Midfielder: Andrea Cossu, Cagliari

Despite having lost their coach to Milan and top scorer to Juventus, the Sardinian outfit held on to one of their crown jewels this season. Leading the league in assists, Cossu has helped Cagliari overcome the absence of Alessandro Matri's goals since the striker left in January. In a much freer role under new coach Roberto Donadoni, Cossu also has become a regular in the Italy squad.

Forward: Marco Di Vaio, Bologna

Marco Di Vaio has been all things to both the club and the city of Bologna this season, bringing calm leadership, some much needed class and, of course, goals (19 to be exact) to the financially struggling club. He also is a man who has given money to a number of squad players when their wages went unpaid, has attended meetings of fans and helped in the search for new owners. It is often said a player has "done it all" for his club, but in the case of Di Vaio, it is no cliche.

Edinson Cavani became Napoli's record scorer in a single season
GettyImagesEdinson Cavani is not heading to Old Trafford

Forward: Edinson Cavani, Napoli

If you need a goal in Serie A this season, you would not call on anyone else. Thunderbolt late winners, instinctive finishes, hat tricks - the Uruguayan has scored them all. Cavani has broken the single-season scoring record at his new side, finding the net 26 times in the league already since his move from Palermo. Cavani is now one of the most talked-about strikers in world football. Signing him this past summer was a masterstroke for the now Champions League-bound Napoli.

Substitutes:
Jean-Francois Gillet, Bari: Club legend, a true hero
Kakha Kaladze, Genoa: Cast aside by Milan, thriving without pressure
Reto Ziegler, Sampdoria: Will be hot free-agent property this summer
Matias Silvestre, Cagliari: Influential leader of Diego Simeone's mini-Argentina
Ruben Olivera, Lecce: Eight goals, four assists
Alessandro Diamanti, Brescia: Tricky, inventive, always positive
Samuel Eto'o, Inter: Kept his side afloat under Benitez, he's lethal in front of goal
Francesco Totti, Roma: Passed the 200-goal mark with some vital strikes
Hernan Crespo, Parma: 15 starts, nine goals for the evergreen hitman

Adam Digby is a Turin-based freelance writer covering Serie A.