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Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Serie A summer transfer XI

Adam Digby

Serie A returns this weekend and there have been many changes to the teams in Italian football's top division; not only are there a host of new coaches at numerous clubs, but also a raft of new players in every side across the league. While there have been some major talents lost - with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi all moving to Paris Saint-Germain - there are also some excellent players arriving. Here is ESPN's pick of the best transfers, with a starting XI picked from those beginning the season in brand new colours.

Goalkeeper: Samir Handanovic (Inter Milan )

A member of ESPN's Serie A's Team of the Season for 2011-12, Handanovic was in superb form throughout last term. He kept an impressive 17 clean sheets in 38 starts, in stark contrast to the demise of Inter's Julio Cesar. While the Brazilian conceded 43 goals in 33 Serie A games, the Slovenian allowed just 35 and the collapse of both the confidence and form of Julio Cesar made finding a new goalkeeper imperative for the Nerazzurri. In Handanovic they have one of the best, although he was pushed close for a place in this XI by Emiliano, who made an emotional return to Fiorentina.

Right-back: Davide Faraoni (Udinese)

Moving in the opposite direction to Handanovic was Italy Under-21 international Faraoni and, in Udinese, he has found perhaps the perfect club to nurture his talent and allow him to realise his full potential. The full-back impressed in his sporadic appearances for Inter last season as he struggled for space behind Maicon, Javier Zanetti and Yuto Nagatomo, but will be given much more playing time under the guidance of Francesco Guidolin. With Mauricio Isla moving to Juventus, Faraoni has the opportunity to avoid fading into the background like Davide Santon before him and make a real name for himself.

Centre-back: Cristian Zapata (AC Milan)

While Milan have suffered what may prove to be insurmountable losses in central defence following the release of Alessandro Nesta and the sale of Thiago Silva, the recent acquisition of Zapata from newly relegated Spanish outfit Villarreal could prove to be an extremely shrewd move. Taken on loan, Milan have made no financial gamble - essential as they look to come in line with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations - and could well find themselves with one of the league's best defenders as a result. Superb at Udinese two seasons ago, the 25-year-old is happy with the ball at his feet and a partnership with the more robust Philippe Mexes could flourish.

Centre-back: Lucio (Juventus)

Another who was in ESPN's best XI of 2011-12, the Brazilian arrives in Turin having led Serie A in interceptions and clearances last season, and brings his vast experience to what is, Andrea Barzagli aside, a young Bianconeri backline. The defenders available to Juventus also lack Champions League experience and free agent Lucio has won the competition with previous club Inter, while he also reached the final with Bayer Leverkusen in 2002. Now 34, he may not be a regular but his presence can only help Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Martin Caceres to improve.

Left-back: Federico Balzaretti (Roma)

An attacking full-back whose speed, crossing and stamina mark him out as one of the best in Serie A is an almost perfect fit for Zdenek Zeman's vision of football and, as he showed at Euro 2012, Balzaretti possesses those qualities in abundance. He may not have had the best of campaigns at Palermo, but his performances for Italy showed he is still a top quality player and, at 30, he will add some veteran intelligence to what is an incredibly young Roma defence.

Central midfield: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina)

Having seen their captain Riccardo Montolivo move to Milan on a free transfer, La Viola snapped up Aquilani from Liverpool and might well have improved their midfield as a result. Montolivo appeared at times to be sleepwalking through the 2011-12 season, while Aquilani has much to prove after failing to do enough to convince either Milan or Juventus to take him on a permanent basis. In former team-mate Vincenzo Montella he will also have a coach who understands him while, with David Pizarro and Borja Valero alongside him, he could form one of the league's best midfield trios.

Central midfield: Michael Bradley (Roma)

Often placed on the left side of a three-man midfield in Cheviot's 4-3-1-2 formation, Bradley was almost the embodiment of everything positive about the Flying Donkeys last term , exhibiting energy and endeavour endemic to coach Mimmo Di Carlos' hard-working side. Those qualities will be essential as he looks to anchor a Roma team that will pour forward at every opportunity. Bradley's intelligence and positional awareness should also come to the fore in a Zeman-led side, making him anything but a token signing for a club owned by a US -based consortium.

Central midfield: Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus)

The one concern for Juventus heading into this new campaign is how they would cope should injury or suspension rob them of talismanic midfielder Andrea Pirlo who, in just one season, has made himself a vital component of the current Serie A champions. Asamoah, however, should provide a viable alternative to the Italy international given his ability on the ball and sheer force of will. His dynamism and desire will also allow him to fit into the roles occupied by Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio, making him a superb addition to an already strong Juventus midfield.

Striker: Mattia Destro (Roma)

Another player who seems an ideal fit for Zeman's return to Roma; Destro's speed and versatility make him a much more suitable alternative for the coach's style than the man he replaced. While Fabio Borini has a far better eye for goal, it is the flexibility and interchanging of Zeman's forward players that make Destro a much better option.

Striker: Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)

Having spent last season on loan at Pescara, bringing the 21-year-old back to Naples following the departure of Lavezzi is a great move by the Southern side who should now be able to give their young talent some playing time at the highest level. Small - he stands just 5'’"4” tall - the Under-21 international makes up for it with speed, invention and a supreme confidence that marks him out as one to watch. Sebastian Giovinco at Juventus pushed him for a place in this line up and, should he become a regular in Turin, could yet outshine Insigne. Having spent last season on loan at Pescara, bringing the 21 year old back to Naples following the departure of Lavezzi is a great move by the Southern side who should now be able to give the young talent some playing time at the highest level. Small  he stands just 1.63m (5'4") tall  the Under-21 international makes up for it with speed, invention and a supreme confidence that marks him out as one to watch. Sebastian Giovinco at Juventus pushed him for a place in this line up and, should he become a regular in Turin, could yet outshine Insigne.

Striker: Antonio Cassano (Inter Milan)

The Italy international has, like Roberto Baggio and Andrea Pirlo before him, switched sides of the San Siro, exchanging the colours of Milan for those of cross-town rivals Inter. Claiming to support them since he was a boy - indeed he played for a club in Bari named after the Nerazzurri - Cassano says the transfer has allowed him to smile once more. Exchanged for former Sampdoria team-mate Giampaolo Pazzini (and the small matter of €7 million) Inter appear, from the outside at least, to have the better end of the deal, securing the most naturally gifted player of his generation. His health may be a concern but his talent is undoubted. Can he show it fully under Andrea Stramaccioni?


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