One of the main charms of Italian football is distribution of quality players throughout the division. A lot of the lesser teams have at least one, sometimes more players who could fight for and possibly earn a spot in a big team.
I decided that I create myself a situation where I am a sporting director of a club and had to put together a first eleven of current Serie A players with limitless budget. However, I did have two other limitations: first one being that they could not be owned or co-owned by Inter, Juventus, Milan, Napoli or Roma (the richer teams of Serie A) and second one that they could be no older than 27.
Could you do it in English Premier League? No, too many rich teams have grabbed all the stars of the lesser ones. Could you do it in Spanish La Liga? The best of the rest XI vs either of Barcelona, Real Madrid… not a contest. Could you do it in German Bundesliga? Yes, though the line between richer and the poorer there is quite fuzzy (I’d say Schalke, Bayern and Wolfsburg are the one’s that seem to spend big).
In Italy it is possible with ease, although it is largely thanks to a certain Udinese and their incredible scouting network. I questioned myself using Lazio who regularly spend more than they earn but I think they are not on same level as the five teams mentioned.
Title-challenging Serie A XI:
Samir Handanovic (Udinese, 27) – Probably amongst the best five goalkeepers in the world at this moment. Amazing shot stopping ability, great presence in the area. And if it’s impossible to convince people that he has been as good as any other goalkeeper in the world this season, then I think one thing you can say for certain, he is the best penalty stopper, at least in the big leagues.
Mauricio Isla (Udinese, 23) – He’ll be on his way to a big team eventually, possibly Inter in the summer, but this is a player with incredible level of energy. His main trait is his attacking ability with clever runs, but he is not a bad player in defence either. He is in Inter’s plan to possibly replace Maicon but this season he has played most of the season as a midfielder…
Mehdi Benatia (Udinese, 24) – One of the best central defenders in the league. He is not flawless as he lacks a in pace, but otherwise his reading of the game is top-notch, his tackles are strong, clean and succesful and in air he wins most of the duels.
Davide Astori (Cagliari, 25) – Finding a partner for Benatia was not easy and I was torn between Danilo, Matias Silvestre and Astori, in the end picking the Italian because he’s been playing at a good level for a longer time. I’m still not 100% convinced by him so he might very well be the weak link of the team – might not be tactically as good as Benatia, otherwise quite similar.
Senad Lulic (Lazio, 25) – Another full-back whose main strength is attacking so I had to think twice before picking him instead of another Lazio player Stefan Radu. His defensive side is a big question mark and in attack he blows a bit of hot and cold, but the promising side is there and I’m sure he’ll get better rather than worse under the guidance of Edy Reja.
Kwadwo Asamoah (Udinese, 23) – In my formation I need at least one high work-rate central midfielders and Asamoah provides a perfect example of it. His tireless work in midfield and ability to cover a lot of distance is paired with a good technical side and understanding of the game.
Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina, 26) – Some classic creativity is needed and although Montolivo has some big weaknesses like his speed, average defensive abilities and often losing the ball in more difficult situations, I imagine he’d work well in a team who could free him of a lot of defensive duties and also attack with all the width of the pitch so he’d have more room. That is opposite to the situation he has in Fiorentina this season where he has little to no options available and is often crowded out in midfield.
Josip Ilicic (Palermo, 23) – Now, I was spoilt for choice here, but I decided to pick Ilicic because he offers the highest work-rate of all the technically high quality attacking midfielders. This work-rate is needed with two very attacking full-backs in the team as well as Montolivo. His main traits are his attacking creativity but he is not new to defending, even if he is not impressive at it. This season has been a bit of a bad one for him.
RIGHT WIDE FORWARD
Gaston Ramirez (Bologna, 21) – In theory, Josip would be much more comfortable than Gaston on the wing as he has been played in such position before, but I feel that Gaston has better versatility and better qualities to play on the wing. He is more capable of taking on defenders and pairing up with Isla. If it wouldn’t work, then a swap of positions is possible. He is actually left footed, but could cut in with Isla bombarding forward.
LEFT WIDE FORWARD
Pablo Armero (Udinese, 25) – Tireless and strong – two of the main reasons I picked him. He’ll get back to help in defence and get back up again before you even noticing it. His ball control at times is not the best but he also has this great ability to always find room for himself and make himself available for team-mates.
Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina, 22) – One of the best players in Serie A this season and after his nasty injury, he is back to being one of world’s hottest attacking talents. Great eye for a goal, great movement, great technical ability – big things await him.
How it looks:
– Sebastian Giovinco is co-owned by Juventus. But not sure if I would’ve picked him anyway.
– The balance would be hard to achieve at first since it’s an attacking formation and every player needs to become quite disciplined at the role they have, otherwise the formation could fall apart. The full-backs, especially Lulic, would have to stay back more than they are used to.
– Bench would consist of Emiliano Viviano (Palermo), Stefan Radu (Lazio), Matias Silvestre (Palermo), Radja Nainggolan (Cagliari), Miguel Veloso (Genoa), Hernanes (Lazio), Mattia Destro (Siena)
– I picked 4-2-3-1 because it is my favorite formation, playing the unimaginative 4-3-1-2 relying on attacking players to create some good opportunities every game or the increasingly popular 3-5-2 is also possible with a good XI. I’d say I could actually put together a more secure 3-5-2 formation than a 4-2-3-1 because there are some question marks in 4-2-3-1 with two attacking full-backs and Ramirez, Armero as wide forwards. The 3-5-2 could be played with same players expect swapping Lulic for Silvestre and most players would be at their most natural positions.