The Serie A season so far had no shortage of twists and turns, thrills and spills as the resurgence of Inter Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina have coincided with a stuttering start for defending champions Juventus.
There have been four different leaders since the start of the season and all of them are realistic contenders for the Scudetto. Remarkably Juventus are yet to reach the summit although they have bounced back strongly after a horrible start. With teams like Empoli, Torino and Sassuolo playing attractive football while traditional giants like Roma and AC Milan struggle in patches, the contest in the peninsula has captured the imagination so far. Inter Milan have made their best start since 1966, Fiorentina were at the top of the table for the first time since 1999, Napoli did the same for the first time in quarter of a century, and that has made the title race fascinatingly unpredictable.
With some bigger names failing to make an impact, making up the team of the season therefore throws up some surprises lining up in a 4-3-1-2 formation.
Samir Handanovi (Inter Milan)
Inter Milan are top of the table going into the new year, largely thanks to their impregnable defence. However, despite their improvement in defensive organisation from previous years, the presence of Samir Handanovic has been vital this season. Only three goalkeepers in this division have made more saves than the giant Slovenian.
Inter owe much of their defensive solidity to this man who has made some stunning interventions like the triple save in their win against Roma and the decisive stop to deny Mattia Destro in the dying minutes to preserve Inter’s single goal lead against Bologna. His shot to save ratio of 84.5% is the highest in the league.
ime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo)
Linked with Barcelona and Juventus, the Croatian is enjoying a great season on the right flank for Sassuolo. Like his club, Vrsaljko is going from strength to strength this season and has created numerous chances for his teammates. He is robust and pacy and is a safe defender. His overlapping runs from the back are a source of constant threat for the opposition, and he ended the year with three consecutive assists. It is quite easy to see why he is attracting so much attention Only Marcos Alonso of Fiorentina has the same number of assists as the fullback.
Miranda (Inter Milan)
Of all the players signed by Inter this summer, Miranda definitely has had the most decisive impact so far. The Brazilian has adapted seamlessly to Italian football and has formed a solid partnership with Colombian Jeison Murillo. A backline that was shaky last season is now statistically one of the best in Europe. Ever since Lucio and Walter Samuel left, Inter’s defence has lacked steel and leadership. But this season has been a different story altogether, and while credit should be given to Handanovic and Murillo, it is the Brazilian Miranda who has showcased a masterclass in defence so far this season without doing anything extravagant.
Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
It has been a remarkable turnaround for Napoli this season. Maurizio Sarri might have inspired them to play some of the best football in Europe, but his biggest achievement has been to get a synchronised backline playing so confidently. What was once an Achilles’ heel for Rafa Benitez’s Napoli is now one of the main reasons why Napoli are in such a strong position to challenge for the title. Perhaps the biggest change individually has been noticed in Kalidou Koulibaly who has stepped up from being a nervous defender to a leader in the back four. He has looked calm and assured while his distribution from the back has been excellent. The Senegalese has stepped out of the defence with conviction and his performances have been compared to Lilian Thuram.
Marcos Alonso (Fiorentina)
One of the brightest prospects in the league and a breath of fresh air this season, Marcos Alonso has impressed at left-back for Paulo Sousa’s Fiorentina. Alonso is one of the tallest full-backs around and his long strides enable him to cover a great deal of ground rapidly. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Alonso is called up by Spain for the Euro 2016.
He has been one of the principal beneficiaries of Sousa’s attacking philosophies and his forays down the left flank has had devastating effects so far. No fullback has created more chances  in Serie A than Alonso this season. His freekick against AC Milan in the first game this season had class written all over it.
Milan Badelj (Fiorentina)
Fiorentina are genuine contenders for the Scudetto with the team playing some eye-catching football under the guidance of new manager Paulo Sousa. While Borja Valero, Federico Bernardeschi and Nikola Kalinic have rightly earned rave reviews for their displays, one simply cannot overlook the contributions of Milan Badelj in the middle of the park. When Mario Suarez was signed from Atletico Madrid this summer it was not clear how much playing time the Croatian would get but he has been irreplaceable so far for Fiorentina. Badelj features heavily in Fiorentia’s possession based game, spreading the play while having the ability to break the play in the middle of the park as well. An assured tackler, Badelj is one of the prime reasons behind Fiorentina’s flying start this campaign.
Restored to the role in which he made his name in Verona, Jorginho is the orchestrator directing the entire team. Maurizio Sarri was expected to use the Pirlo of the Provinces, Mirko Valdifiori, in this role for Napoli this campaign but Jorginho has quickly secured the role. Everything goes through him and when he finds his rhythm Napoli are a joy to watch. Jorginho touched the ball 212 times against Hellas Verona — once every 24.2 seconds — the most in Europea s top 5 leagues this season. Jorginho is the regista for Sarri and his fantastic form recently earned him a new contract till 2020.
Giacomo Bonaventura (Milan)
Bonaventura could have been placed anywhere in this team, such has been his versatility. He is truly a ‘jack’ of all trades featuring in multiple roles this season as Sinisa Mihajlovic struggles to find his best system. Bonaventura was the best outfield player for Milan last season, and he has continued that this year too in spite of the heavy investment by Milan this summer. He has eight assists to his name with Marek Hamsik only matching the number of opportunities set up for teammates. Playing in a team lacking ideas and imagination, Bonaventura is the only player who has performed consistently.
He has added deadly freekicks and perfect corner kicks to his repertoire which has resulted in crucial goals for Milan. Bonaventura often starts out wide, but is comfortable coming inside once in possession. Four goals and eight assists has been a brilliant return so far this season in a breakout year for the former Atalanta star.
Riccardo Saponara (Empoli)
Despite losing key figures Maurizio Sarri and Daniele Rugani this summer, Empoli have continued their impressive displays this season with evergreen striker Massimo Maccarone scoring for fun. One man who has been vital to the Tuscany side is Riccardo Saponara, his creativity and imagination has opened up opposition defences with ease. He has already notched five goals and six assists this season, and is well on course to reach double figures for both. He has been at the heart of everything impressive for Empoli this term in the trequartista role. Maintaining this form to help Empoli sustain their place in the top half of the table and securing his place in the Azzurria s Euro 2016 squad will be his primary goal for the remainder of the season.
Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
The young Argentine was under huge pressure at the beginning of the season to justify the a 40m price tag and to carry on the legacy of Carlos Tevez at Juventus. On top of that he had to handle the pressure of a big club while adapting to a new system and new teammates. Max Allegri was criticised from all corners as Dybala was used marginally, but as the season progressed everyone realised how vital it was for the Argentine’s development.
He gradually introduced Dybala, picked his moments to build up his confidence and got him to gain muscles. He has already matched Teveza s first season at Juventus for goals and assists, Dybalaa s numbers are also as good as they were at Palermo a year ago although he has played half as many minutes contributing ten goals and three assists to help Max Allegria s new side storm back into the title race.
Gonzalo Higua n (Napoli)
The best player in the league without a shadow of a doubt. Finding the net 16 times in 17 Serie A outings means Gonzalo Higuain is undoubtedly the leaguea s most in-form striker, also weighing in with two goals in the Europa League. Roberto Mancini recently claimed that Higuain is as decisive as Lionel Messi in Serie A. A visit to the dietitian and the man management of Sarri has worked brilliantly for Higuain so far this season. He is playing like a man with a point to prove after his last season at Napoli and disappointments in World Cup and Copa America finals. No one since Luca Toni won the Golden Boot in 2005-06 has scored 16 goals in the opening 17 games of the season.
As the best player in Serie A, Higuain has all the qualities to decide the title race in Napoli’s favor this season. His understanding with Lorenzo Insigne is so telepathic that Napoli fans refer to them as a single player : ‘HiguaInsigne’. Higuain seems intent on emulating compatriot Diego Maradona by bringing the Scudetto to Southern Italy and becoming a God in Naples.
Coach: Maurizio Sarri (Napoli)
Watching Sarri’s Napoli is like listening to an orchestra. They play in perfect harmony, defending and attacking as a single unit. They are a triumph of his excellent coaching. Using drone technology to improve the defence has clicked as well with Koulibaly as his leader in the backline. The start of the season saw Napoli icon Diego Maradona raise concerns about Sarri, believing he will lead Napoli to the second division. However Sarri reacted in the best way possible and Maradona had to withdraw his comments few months later. There is renewed enthusiasm at Napoli with Higuain and Insigne leading from the front. There were concerns as to how he would command the dressing room in Naples and whether Sarri could get the players to follow him and make sacrifices, but these concerns have been dismissed quickly as Napoli look like the strongest unit in this title race. Considering the winning experience in this team — they’re the only club other than Juventus to win any silverware in Italy in the past four years — Napoli are more than mere outsiders. Maurizio Sarri deserves a lot of credit and respect for that.