European Football

Serie A Team of the Season Part 4: Honorable Mentions

One Final Article…

Welcome to our final article in the Team of the Season series, where we name our honorable mention picks for the Serie A season. While the main team was fairly straightforward, the honorable mentions were not. There were some tough choices, but this is the best I felt I could come up with.

So, one last time, let’s get started…

Samir Handanovič (Inter Milan)

The Inter goalkeeper was a tough contender with Donnarumma for the starting goalkeeper position. The Slovenian did finish level with Donnarumma in clean sheets, while having a comparable save percentage and goals against per 90 mins statistic. On paper, this looks to be an incredibly close discussion, but there is one major difference that decided it.

While Handanovič at his peak is a very good goalkeeper, he does have his issues and problem moments. He finished the season joint-top in Serie A in errors leading to goals, which, while they did not end up hurting Inter in their title race, does create a significant enough difference between the Slovenian and Italian goalkeepers to provide justification for Donnarumma’s inclusion at the expense of his cross-city rival. Handanovič is a very good goalkeeper, there is no doubt, but in close comparisons it is often the smallest details that make the difference, and, unfortunately for Handanovič, Donnarumma won out on the details.

Achraf Hakimi (Inter Milan)

Hakimi vs. Cuadrado was also a very tough decision. Hakimi himself was upset that EA Sports did not give him a Team of the Season item on FIFA Ultimate Team this year, and while I do understand the frustration, I also had a tough time putting Hakimi in the starting team in my own Team of the Season.

Don’t get me wrong, Hakimi is very, very good. You can make the argument that he is the best right back in the world at the moment (and you can also argue that he is not even a right back, given Inter’s 3-5-2 system has him playing basically as a midfielder, but that is neither here nor there). But it is very hard to look beyond just how good and how influential Cuadrado was in that Juve team. A fullback being among the league leaders in assists is still quite a rarity these days, even if seeing Liverpool’s fullbacks amass crazy assist numbers somewhat normalized it. In a team that already struggled at times to create goals, Cuadrado being able to do what he does from the fullback position is even more impressive. Hakimi is also incredibly impressive, as his ability to run the whole right side of the pitch, scoring and assisting at rates akin to a winger, was important for Inter’s success this season, but just not quite as important as Cuadrado was for Juve. It was another very close choice, but Hakimi will have to settle for a spot in the honorable mentions.

Milan Škriniar (Inter Milan)

As I said in the initial Serie A defenders article, the choice for center back was basically Cristian Romero and whichever Inter center back struck my fancy. I chose De Vrij, but honestly there probably was not a wrong answer of the three.

Milan Škriniar, like teammates De Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni, was nothing short of phenomenal this season. The Slovakian beast of a defender dominated opposition on the ground and in the air and, like De Vrij and other center backs I have discussed in Team of the Season articles, is a player whose effectiveness does not translate neatly into easy statistics. When watching him play, though, it is easy to see just how good he is. Strong, a smart tackler, and capable with the ball at his feet, he is a model of a modern center back. Even while he is not as quick or mobile as other top tier center backs, he is still a very intelligent positional player, able to deal with attackers effectively without needing to use rapid recovery speed or other physical tools. While he was just narrowly left out of the team in favor of Stefan De Vrij, Škriniar is just as outstanding of a player, and with the Slovak entering the prime of his career, you will undoubtedly be hearing his name more very soon.

Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese)

Rodrigo De Paul has been one of the most underrated players in Serie A, if not the world, for the last few years. The Argentine midfield dynamo has largely carried Udinese away from the relegation zone and firmly placed in mid-table mediocrity for the last few seasons, a position that might be higher than where they would be without De Paul in the team.

De Paul’s stats pretty much speak for themselves. One of the top scoring midfielders in the league while also boasting the second highest assist total, De Paul is quite literally at the center of everything Udinese do going forward. Given that his team only scored 42 goals in the league this season, De Paul was directly responsible for just under half of them, which is a pretty astonishing statistic. He is also among the league leaders in key passes and led the league in players dribbled past, showing he has so many different ways of being dangerous and helping his team in attack. Not included in the graphic were his fairly admirable defensive stats, at least for an attacking-minded midfielder, showing he is more of a complete package in midfield than many may give him credit for. It is very unfortunate that two of the three starting midfield positions were locks, as it meant it was unlikely for De Paul to get a starting Team of the Season spot that he probably deserves. It was a close choice between him and Ruslan Malinovskyi, but the Ukrainian narrowly won out in my mind. Despite that, De Paul is an immensely talented player, and with more and more media outlets linking him with a move to either Atlético Madrid or Leeds United, we will be seeing more of him very soon.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (AS Roma)

If you wanted an update, United and Arsenal fans, your former player is doing very well.

It was tough to select where exactly Mkhitaryan would fit into this team. He is a midfielder by trade, but he played many different roles in this Roma team, most effectively as almost an inside forward playing off of the striker. This role, and his very strong performances in a difficult season for Roma, has allowed him to amass a very impressive goal and assist total. He is the leading scorer among all Serie A midfielders while also being among the logjam multi-way tie for second in the league in assists, which is very impressive. He unfortunately does not get into the main team due to questions of where I would put him and just how good many other players were this season. There was no way he was going to get in over any of the forwards, and the choice between him, De Paul, and Malinovskyi was way too close to be a comfortable choice. Regardless, the Armenian maestro is deserving of recognition, and he easily earns a spot in the honorable mentions.

Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)

The famous diminutive Neapolitan winger was not good enough to overcome the three locks in the forwards part of this team, but he is certainly good enough to get a spot here.

Quick, agile, confident on the ball, and lethal when cutting in from the left wing, Lorenzo Insigne was quite an important player for Napoli this season. Alongside fellow diminutive but tricky forward Dries Mertens, Insigne was critical in Napoli’s attack and was a crucial factor in helping the Partenopei score the third-most amount of goals of any team in the league this season. Insigne himself was Napoli’s leading scorer, being directly involved in around a quarter of his team’s goals this season. That is a lot for a team that is as good and scores as many goals as Napoli. Especially with the injury issues faced by this Napoli team, mainly to Mertens and young budding star striker Victor Osimhen, Insigne’s importance and relevance to the team’s attack has been expanded. While Napoli ended up outside of the Champions League places, Insigne can still look back and appreciate the strong individual season that he had. It just was not strong enough to displace Lukaku, Ronaldo, or Muriel in the main team.

Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo)

Domenico Berardi falls into the same category as the aforementioned Rodrigo De Paul: players who are quite underrated due to their multi-year contributions coming in a “smaller” team. Now, don’t get me wrong, Sassuolo are a very good team, and their somewhat disappointing second half of the season did overshadow just how impressive they were in the first half of the season, but even then Berardi would likely be getting more love and attention as a player had he left the Neroverdi when he first broke onto the scene a few seasons ago.

The now-26 year old Italian winger is an established star for Sassuolo and, despite some inconsistencies in previous years, has returned to his best in a green and black shirt this season. Sassuolo are, at their best, a free-flowing attacking side, and most of that attacking ingenuity and precision comes from Berardi’s side of the pitch. He was directly responsible for about a third of Sassuolo’s goals this season, which is quite impressive for a team like the Neroverdi who are known for their attacking ability. It was Berardi’s dangerous runs from the right and ability to combine with his teammates that led to him being a massive problem for opposing defenses. He, like Insigne, was simply just not better than the three starting forwards in the main team. Which is unfortunate, but it does not mean that Berardi will not be given the credit he deserves.

Dušan Vlahović (Fiorentina)

Quite possibly the breakout star of the year in Serie A, 21 year old Serbian striker Dušan Vlahović emerged from nowhere for Fiorentina this season, becoming a ruthless goalscorer and a physical force of nature up front. He was solid in the first half of the season, but his form really caught fire during the second half, having scored 17 of his 21 league goals from January on. While his on the ball ability was not great, his size and ability in the air made him useful during the build up, and his smart positional sense and clinical finishing ability turned him into maybe one of the best young strikers in Europe in a matter of months. The youngster ended up scoring about 45% of Fiorentina’s goals this season, which, while it shows how poor of a season La Viola had, it also shows just how good and how important Vlahović was for his team.

He likely would not have been the next name on the list for forwards to make the starting XI. Had one of the three forwards not been locked into the team, Berardi or Insigne likely would have taken their place, but regardless, it has been an incredible year from the young Serbian in Florence. With Fiorentina unlikely to be able to hang on to their prized youngster for much longer, I imagine you will be hearing Vlahović’s name in transfer rumors very soon, if there have not been rumors floating around him already.

And there we have it, the honorable mentions for the Serie A Team of the Season. Agree with my picks? Think I left someone out? Let me know in the comments!

Thank you for entertaining our thoughts for this Team of the Season series. I will not be going into any of the non-top five European leagues, so this is where the series will end. I will likely do a Team of the Tournament for the Euros and maybe Copa America, so be on the lookout for those in the next month interspersed with some other things.

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