Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Italy: Individual ratings

The Italian top flight came to a relatively dramatic conclusion this weekend. Inter Milan edged out AS Roma for the Scudetto, and I'd like to comprehensively analyze a few teams in hindsight.

Inter Milan

Patrick Viera was injured for much of the season, and has yet to truly emulate the form that made him world-class while playing for Arsenal since switching to the Serie A from Arsenal several years ago. His best years are firmly behind him. Inter grabbed Esteban Cambiasso on a free-transfer from Real Madrid in the off-season, and Cambiasso proved to be a very effective central midfielder for the Milanese club. Elsewhere in midfield, Javier Zanetti, at times, completely outshone everyone else on the pitch, and at other times, was merely considerably better than them. A fantastic season in this blogger's eyes for Zanetti.

Attacking for Inter, Zlatan Ibrihimovic, the brooding Swede, showed glimpses of the skill that keeps his name on the tips of tongues, but injury reared it's head inevitably for the big man, disrupting any consistent form he may have achieved. Julio Cruz was simply world-class throughout the first half of the season, but disappeared for a month or two in the second-half of the year. I'd consider it a good year overall for the rarely capped Argentine based mainly on his absurd goal-scoring form throughout the first half of the campaign.. Hernan Crespo serves well as a role-playing, impact substitute. In the coming years I expect the youngster Balotelli to feature greatly, in a similar role, and trusted to produce the same effect as his neighbor Pato for AC Milan.

On defense, Marco Materazzi, plagued by injury, yellow-cards, red cards, an addiction to tattoos, and a regrettable penchant for diving, no longer appears to belong in this, or any, top-class side. However, wide protection was provided in the form of Maicon and Maxwell, both having excellent seasons, the former earning his informal moniker of 'best right-back in Europe' for the 2007-2008 campaign.

AS Roma

A second-place finish is nothing to be ashamed of for a Roman side without nearly the same depth as the Milanese clubs.

AS Roma has long centered around the whimsies of form its talisman, Francesco Totti, provides, and last season's top scorer was perfunctorily injured for durations of this campaign, much of the middle and now the end. Mirko Vucinic has emerged out from under his teammate's shadow as the focal point of increasingly dynamic Roman attack. Tallying 13 goals in all competitions, the volume of quality he possesses has yet to manifest itself in a proportionate number of goals, which will come with the continued wizening of age and match experience. Vucinic, 24, contrasts Totti completely; he is young, very quick, and attacks defenders head-on, while Totti plays as he is, older and more deliberate, using flicks and passing acumen to unlock opponents, with increasing rarity. Totti's dumb-fire approach to free-kicks underscores the need for vivacity and energy from another source which Vucinic and midfield general Danielle Di Rossi will provide.

Di Rossi could become the most complete central-midfielder in Europe, already spraying the ball around routinely like Michael Carrick should be doing, the 26 year old Roman also gets well stuck in, and can dribble with dexterity, two things the Englishman cannot. Di Rossi holds well enough to be relied upon completely in the role, while still providing flair and creativity no manager would rightly expect from such a dominant defensive, holding presence. Supporting Roma should be very exciting for the next several years.

Before I get carried away in hyperbole for my favorite Italian club, let me offer some balance. The French defender Mexes has the same proclivity as Materrazi for foolish, clown-like behavior at the center of Roma's defense. Arrogance is earned and Mexes has done nothing this season to justify the amount he exudes. The rest of the defense is lacking. Panucci has class but, sadly for fans of Italian calcio, continues to age. Juan, although a quality footballer, is not dominant enough to be a world-class central defender. Cassetti is slow and generally reminds me of an Italian Rob Halford.

Elsewhere in the squad, Pizzaro had a decent but unspectacular year, however still earning his classification as a top-class footballer, and Giuly, having arrived on a free transfer from Barcelona, did more than enough to justify his place in the squad. Mancini will leave in the summer; his ever-brief flourishes of skill do not justify his place in any top side.

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