A lot more stripes in this one…
Welcome back to our Serie A Team of the Season, where we will be naming our midfield three in this team. Two were certain inclusions, one was probably a bit controversial, but all three play for teams that wear stripes, so Vikram did not enjoy making the graphics.
You can review our back four and goalkeeper here. But without further ado, let us get into the selections.
Franck Kessié (AC Milan)
Franck Kessié has taken a colossal step forward this season. Always thought of as a fairly reliable, slightly-above-average midfielder, Kessié has suddenly emerged as one of the best and most well-rounded midfielders in the league. Seemingly pigeonholed into the African “pace and power” stereotypes prior to this year, the Ivorian has emerged as a midfielder that is not only solid defensively, but is a skilled enough passer and enough of a goalscoring threat to cover all positions in midfield. He has also become Milan’s main penalty taker, which is quite an achievement when you earn that honor over Zlatan.
Kessié is the epitome of the modern midfielder, good enough at everything to play all roles in a midfield at a very high level. His position in Milan’s double pivot midfield made him crucial for ensuring that Rossoneri team worked, and even with Milan’s drop in for during the second half of the season, Kessié was still one of their best performing players. Yes, most of his goals came from penalties, and yes, he had a negligible number of assists, but he still found ways to be influential in attacking areas in ways that did not translate to simple goals and assists. The defensive aspect is more accurately reflected by the stats, with him being among the league leaders in blocks and dribblers tackled, but that offensive side of his game cannot be ignored. While it was not enough to translate into a top ten place, Kessié still completed nearly 90% of his total passes this season, which is incredibly impressive for a midfielder who, by nature, is attempting many more risky passes. He was almost a one-man engine room at times for Milan, making things go by himself.
There are some controversial and difficult choices in this team, but this is not one of them. Kessié was one of the best players in Serie A this season, and he was a lock for this team. With his contract running out in Milan, it may only be a matter of time before we see him on the move.
Nicolò Barella (Inter Milan)
And here we have the best midfielder in Serie A this season. The least difficult choice of any in this midfield three. One of the main reasons why Inter are champions of Italy.
Nicolò Barella is another player who, like Kessié, has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few seasons. After a solid season on loan at Inter from Cagliari last season, Barella joined the Nerazzurri permanently this season, slotting into their midfield like a missing piece of a puzzle. He, also like Kessié, is incredibly well-rounded, able to function perfectly as a box-to-box midfielder in Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 system. He is a player who has all of the attributes needed to run the show by himself. An incredibly capable passer, especially at short and medium ranges, Barella could keep things ticking over in midfield while also playing more dangerous passes forward, which led to his pretty solid assist total on the season. He is not an adept goalscorer, but he can put the ball in the back of the net when needed. He is not a powerful or strong midfielder, but he covers so much ground and is very intelligent in when and how he tackles, allowing him to take part in a bit of the midfield dirty work as well. But it is that energy, that boundless aggression, and the incredible passing ability that makes him an elite player, someone who is at the center of everything Inter do. When he plays well, the Nerazzurri seem nearly unbeatable.
Again, not a controversial choice. Barella did win the Serie A “Best Midfielder” award for this season as well, so that just shows how obvious it was. Barella is a budding superstar, someone who has taken the first steps into that stardom this season and someone who will likely be a very influential player at the Euros this summer.
Ruslan Malinovskyi (Atalanta)
Ok, now this spot was a very tough choice, I will not lie. I will not say who the other player was, since he will appear on the honorable mentions and that just takes the fun out of this, but Malinovskyi was, in my mind, the right choice for this final spot.
And that might be a bit controversial, because the Ukrainian did not really kick it into fifth gear, so to speak, until the second half of the season. He was not even a truly consistent starter until then either. It was the departure of Alejandro Gómez that opened the opportunity for Malinovskyi to step into the first XI, and he grabbed that opportunity with both hands. He was not as quick or as strong of a dribbler as the departed Gómez, but his passing and shooting ability with both feet is truly outstanding. Especially his shooting ability, he can absolutely wallop a ball. He offered something much different from the player that he replaced, but he was no less effective.
And that whole “he was not that good in the first half of the season” thing is fairly true. Only three of his 12 league assists and two of his eight league goals came before Gómez left for Sevilla in late January. But look at it from the other perspective, six goals and nine assists in the second half of the season is very good. I would argue his uptick in form and ability to replace Papu Gómez so seamlessly is what allowed Atalanta to maintain their Champions League place for next season, something that did not look certain during the first half of the season. Without the Ukrainian, we could be talking about this Atalanta season in a completely different way.
But yes, this was still very close. Unlike Kessié and Barella, Malinovskyi had quite a bit of competition for his spot. The main competitors did make the honorable mentions, so I will not mention them here, but it was still a very strong and incredibly important second half of the season for the Ukrainian, which sealed his spot in this team.
And there you have it, our Serie A Team of the Season midfield. Agree with my picks? Think I left someone out? Let me know in the comments below. Join us next time, when we go over our three forwards in this team.
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