Serie A: Picking a Season's Best XI from the Bottom Half of the Table

Theo Rowley@@LeRowleyContributor IApril 4, 2013

It's difficult trying to divert attention away from something that seems to dominate the agenda. Just ask Paolo Di Canio.

As the newly-installed Sunderland boss attempts to steer conversation towards who will start on the right-wing of his midfield rather than answering question about his right-wing political views, teams in the bottom half of Serie A may be exasperated with the column inches devoted to their top-half counterparts.

That's not to say proceedings at the summit don't warrant such attention. With only eight league games left, things are getting tense.

Juventus, fresh from scraping past Inter in a close-fought 2-1 victory, are nine points clear of second-place Napoli.

AC Milan hold that third and all-important Champions League spot and their irresistible form of late—unbeaten in their 12 league games of 2013—has seen them open up a six-point lead over Fiorentina.

With Catania, in eighth, only a further six points behind Fiorentina, things are decidedly entertaining.

But then the encounters between the bottom 10 teams are anything but docile.

Both tied on 38 points, there is a knife's edge difference between Parma in 10th—top half—to bottom-half Cagliari. With the latter having beaten Fiorentina 2-1 last weekend, there is a palpable defiant attitude to those in the nether reaches of Serie A.

When picking a season's best XI, it seems fitting to opt for a formation which throws caution to the wind; go maverick. This team will line up in a 3-5-2, the formation of choice for the league's current leaders Juventus. Just don't expect this XI to challenge for the title.

As two of the midfielders play as rampaging wingers-cum-wingbacks, and another one pushing up to support his two strikers, scoring goals is the order of the day. That is, after all, a key component to remaining in this division.

In goal, we have Sergio Romero of Sampdoria. Having played in 26 of their 30 league games, the Argentinian has been crucial to helping his team concede the fewest goals (35) of any team in the second half of the division, a total which is just three more goals than third place Milan have leaked.

After finding himself benched by AZ Alkmaar of Holland's Eredivisie, Sampdoria pulled off a coup to convince Romero to drop down to Serie B at the start of last season.

But after helping them capture the second division crown, they now find themselves in 12th, 10 points clear of the dropzone, with Romero's performances contributing to help secure top flight football for another season.

In the first of the three central defence berths—remember, we're relying on outscoring the opposition so defensive fullbacks aren't needed—Andreas Granqvist of Genoa gets the nod.

The Swede has been playing at a level consistently higher than his team's position suggests. Flirting with relegation in 17th, Genoa's 0-0 draw with second-from-bottom Palermo ended a losing streak of three games.

But Granqvist is usually a reliable enforcer at the back, a player who, when on international duty, marks Zlatan Ibrahimovic in training.

Partnering Granqvist in central defence is his Swedish compatriot, Mikael Antonsson. Playing for Bologna, Antonsson has settled in well to life at Stadio Renato Dall'Ara after his move from Kobenhavn in 2011.

Finishing in ninth last season, they currently sit 13th. The fact they are 10 points above the relegation mire is owed to Antonsson's recent good form.

The third and final piece to this defensive triumvirate is Cagliari's Davide Astori. While Marco Sau has been grabbing local and national headlines for his goalscoring accomplishments, it is the domineering performances of Astori which go unheralded.

This changed recently though when the former AC Milan player was rewarded with a full cap in Italy's 1-1 draw with Netherlands in February.

At just 26, Astori is now entering his peak years where he will look to cement a consistent starting spot in the Azzurri, and potentially a return to Milan. 

Honourable mention goes to Genoa's Luca Antonelli who was only denied a spot as he is a full-back and doesn't really fit in a 3-5-2.

While this team will be cavalier in attack, there will also be two defensive midfielders deployed; it is Italy after all, where teams look to use defence as the best form of attack.

First up, is another Italian national, Giacomo Bonaventura of Atalanta. Well-versed in protecting the defence, Bonaventura plays in the mould of national team captain Daniele de Rossi: break up attacks, disperse the ball either short or long, surge goalwards to support an attack, and—as he did recently against Sienascore the occasional screamer from 30 yards (see below).

With his 24th birthday not until August, Bonaventura fits the bill for a prodigious talent who will interest the bigger teams in the league, or even the continent. 

Playing alongside him in that rangy box-to-box role is Palermo's Edgar Barreto. Sitting second from bottom, the great escape is on for the Paraguayan and his teammates.

With Palermo bogged in the relegation mire since near the start of the season, their players have found themselves with faces as pink as their shirts.

Barreto, however, has featured in 24 of their 30 games and has given a good account of himself, helping keep the club within touching distance of safety, a chasm which is now just three points.

Costing over €5 million when purchased from Atalanta in August 2011, he may be one of the first assets that club president Maurizio Zamparini cashes in on if they are relegated.

Moving up the field, there will be pace and trickery on the wings. On the right, we have Alessio Cerci, a player who, despite being just 25, seems to have been bamboozling Serie A defenders for an age.

Formerly of Roma, Brescia, Atalanta and Fiorentina, the nomadic winger has found solace at the Stadio Olimpico in his debut season.

Five goals in his 27 league appearances doesn't demonstrate the panache with which he has played, gravitas which recently earned him a call up to the senior national team.

On the opposite wing, and this may cause contention, is Pescara's Juan Quintero.

Yes, this is his maiden season in Italy. Yes, he has only played 16 games, five of which were from the bench. And yes, his team looks consigned to relegation.

But he is an exciting player, one who has begun to look like justifying his €3 million price tag. At just 20, he is sure to be lighting up Europe for some time yet.

And now beginning to supplant himself in the national team's ranks, he will benefit playing alongside the likes of Falcao, Mario Yepes and Fredy Guarin.

Playing as the trequartista will be Alessandro Diamanti. Could there be any other?

Almost 30 and now at Bologna, Diamanti is with his third Serie A team. But, save a prolific promotion-securing season with Livorno several years ago, this look to be his most fruitful.

With seven strikes to his name, he has revelled in playing either just behind or alongside the oft-prolific Alberto Gilardino and the raw yet exciting Manolo Gabbiadini (a player who almost snuck into this line-up).

Only six points adrift of a respectable ninth place, Diamanti has been vital in assisting his team. Just don't ask him to take the corners.

Now for the focal point of this team of goal-hungry cavaliers, a team sated only by victory. The first striker is a player who, despite only gracing Serie A since January, has bagged six goals in nine appearances.

Siena looked doomed. Unable to escape the drop zone, it looked unlikely they would survive in this division, let alone emulate last season's 14th-place finish. That is until they signed Innocent Emeghara.

Initially on loan from Lorient, securing the Swiss striker to a permanent deal will be top of the agenda if—and that will remain a big if until they can establish real consistency—they survive.

Tall, pacy and athletic, Emeghara is the perfect foil for his strike partner, the slight yet feared Mauro Icardi.

Here's three facts which demonstrate the credentials of Icardi, a player who is already exciting fans back in South America: this is his maiden Serie A season; he scores in 50% of games he starts; he's only 20.

Completing a quad of South American players at Samp's Stadio Communale—alongside Eder of Brazil, Marcelo Estigarribia of Paraguay and Icardi's beleaguered compatriot Maxi Lopez—the youngster has scored nine goals in 24 appearances, 18 of which he started.

Yet to receive a call up to the national team, he could be just the tonic to freshen up an attacking force which, due to Carlos Tevez's profligacy and Sergio Aguero's injury problems, is in danger of stagnating before next year's World Cup.


------------------------------------------Sergio Romero (Sampdoria)--------------------------------------------

----Andreas Granqvist (Genoa)----Davide Astori (Cagliari)----Mikael Antonsson (Bologna)-----


--------------------Giacomo Bonaventura (Atalanta)-----Edgar Barreto (Palermo)-----------------


Alessio Cerci (Torino)----------------------------------------------------------------------Juan Quintero (Pescara)

-------------------------------------Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna)--------------------------------------


-----------------------Innocent Emeghara (Siena)-----Mauro Icardi (Sampdoria)--------------------



What's your thoughts? Who would you include or disregard? Let me know either in the comments section below or via Twitter, @LeRowley


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