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May 18, 2010

Serie A Team of the Season

The third of our end of season awards, in association with Castrol Rankings, is the Serie A Team of the Season. The formation of 4-2-1-3 worked for Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan as they won the title, so let's stick with that.

• Forum: Soccernet v Castrol Rankings - Who is right?

GK: JULIO SERGIO - ROMA (622 Castrol Ranking) - Once dubbed "the best No.3 goalkeeper in the world" by his former coach Luciano Spalletti, he was instrumental in helping Roma claw back from a bad start and challenge Inter right until the last day. Brazilian goalkeepers were once seen as little more than cardboard cut-outs propped up on a patch of turf along the goal line, but things have changed so much that Inter's celebrated Julio Cesar may not even be the best Serie A shot-stopper named Julio now.

RB: MAICON - INTER MILAN (118) - An easy inclusion for all those who regularly watched Inter. Despite some mid-season struggles, he was a force on the right flank, pushing forward, swinging from all-out attack to an effective backpedal depending on the situation. He scored one of the year's best goals at Udinese, a right-footed volley from just inside the area after a brilliant exchange with Goran Pandev.

CB: WALTER SAMUEL - INTER MILAN (173) - Those who find it ironic that two-thirds of what was at times an embarrassing Juventus back four were called up by Marcello Lippi for the World Cup, won't have grounds for the same kind of complaint here. Samuel, a few years removed from the dawn of his nickname 'The Wall', can still command a defence, sweep up everything in sight and pop up in the penalty area to score vital goals. He was paired with Lucio as a left-sided central defender most of the time, but looked at ease whenever asked to shift a few yards to the right.

CB: LEONARDO BONUCCI - BARI (954) - A member of Lippi's squads since the turn of the year, he usually plays on the left but admittedly may have slipped a bit after his central defensive partner - and another up-and-coming talent - Andrea Ranocchia was ruled out for the rest of the season back in December. Bari often morphed from 4-4-2 to 4-2-4 with gusto, which could have meant trouble for a defender as the side often included offensive-minded central midfielders, but Bonucci held his own most of the time. Bari would like to hold on to him, but Inter are counted among his suitors. He was a member of Inter's title-winning youth squad before the Nerazzurri let him go as part of the deal that brought in Diego Milito, as he is co-owned by Genoa.

LB: JUAN MANUEL VARGAS - FIORENTINA (304) - Choosing the Peruvian is bit of a stretch - the same effect he had on a lot of opposing defences while going forward - as he actually played more often as a left-sided midfielder in Fiorentina's 4-2-3-1 than a defender. At the back he's still prone to lapses in concentration, but a less than stellar field of competitors, among them AC Milan's Luca Antonini, means he gets the nod.

DM: DAVID PIZARRO - ROMA (414) - As 'Little' to Daniele De Rossi's 'Large' in central midfield for Roma when they played 4-2-3-1, Pizarro has been a schemer and playmaker more than a defensive man, but deserves a place here. Despite playing with a dodgy right knee for most of the year, he was the engine that propelled the Giallorossi to the top of the table, shuttling from sideline to sideline, making himself available to colleagues and allowing them to move forward while he kept possession. He scored as frequently this season as the unkempt De Rossi apparently shaved - twice, including a spot-kick.

DM: ESTEBAN CAMBIASSO - INTER MILAN (271) - An adopted Milanese (the city, not the team) like his captain Javier Zanetti, he barely missed a game all season, having started late because of injury. Often the last man standing at the back, he was often seen lunging into game-saving tackles when Inter went all out with three or more strikers and he also provided much-needed goals such as the winner against Chelsea in the Champions League. Cambiasso combined effectively with Thiago Motta in the 4-2-1-3 formation.

CM: MAREK HAMSIK - NAPOLI (331) - Hamsik just edges out Wesley Sneijder because Inter can't have it all to themselves, can they? Hamsik is one of the players Italy will fear most in the Group F match against Slovakia in South Africa after he improved on a brilliant Serie A debut in 2008-09, creating chances and showing uncanny timing in his runs inside the penalty area. Mostly used alongside either Ezequiel Lavezzi or Fabio Quagliarella on the right of a two-man supporting cast for a main striker (who most of the time was whoever among the aforementioned duo not paired with Hamsik himself), his hair-raising goalscoring ability apparently influences his own mane, which he keeps constantly spiked. This has not hindered his great heading ability, though, so more power to him.

RW: FABRIZIO MICCOLI - PALERMO (261) - A diminutive striker who has become a folk hero in Palermo. His sculpted, shaved eyebrows may score low for some on the fashion scale, but he has been an example on and off the pitch for the Rosanero, who were edged out of a Champions League place by Sampdoria on the last day of the season. Paired up front with Edinson Cavani in Palermo's fluid 4-3-1-2, he was almost unstoppable one-on-one when drifting inside to shoot. He shoots with accuracy and force and shows a deceptive, Jermain Defoe-esque power for someone who is on the short side. Lippi's refusal to include him in the Italy squad - even before he strained a knee ligament in the match against Sampdoria - is as head-scratching as the situation involving Antonio Cassano.

LW: ANTONIO DI NATALE - UDINESE (43) - With a rare instinct for finding the goal, a quality already demonstrated following year after year of brilliant strikes, he has once again impressed, either running with the ball or quickly turning half-chances into goals. He may have cost former Italy coach Roberto Donadoni his job when he missed a penalty in the shootout against Spain at Euro 2008, but that will only motivate him even more now the World Cup is coming up. Di Natale played mostly as a left-sided striker in Udinese's 4-3-3 before moving to centre forward in the middle of the season, but he can be effective anywhere along the frontline.

ST: DIEGO MILITO - INTER MILAN (150) - Milito, also known as 'El Principe' (The Prince) runs away with the top award, with the same vigour, subtlety and skill with which he held off defenders throughout the season. All of this despite being labelled a "gamble" by many on his arrival last summer because, the sentiment was, he had only played for second-tier sides whose best ambitions had been grabbing a European place, never mind trying to win a Treble. He took to the top of the Serie A like a duck to water and worked effectively both as a central striker in a tridente formation and half of an attacking duo with, mostly, Samuel Eto'o. His longest league goal drought lasted all of one month and four matches - between late September and late October - though half the matches were missed through injury. A Shevchenko-esque ability to find the far corner with low shots across goal and great timing made him the great success story of the year in Serie A.

PLAYER OF THE SEASON: DIEGO MILITO - INTER MILAN (150)

• Coming up:

• Champions League Team of the Season (May 21)

• The final Castrol Rankings of the European season are released on May 26.

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