Commentary

The All-Serie A Team, '11-12

Undefeated Juve dominates Serie A first-team selections

Updated: May 16, 2012, 4:13 PM ET
By James Horncastle | Special to ESPN.com

Gianluigi Buffon, Sulley Ali MuntariOlivier Morin/AFP/Getty ImagesGianluigi "Gigi" Buffon was one of the reasons Juventus finished without a defeat this season.

Goalkeepers
Gigi Buffon -- Juventus
"If this wasn't my best season, then it wasn't far off," Buffon told Il Corriere della Sera. Entering the history books after conceding just 16 goals in Serie A, the Juventus No. 1 sometimes had little to do, but when called upon, he jumped into action, producing stunning save after stunning save against Lazio and Palermo. His mistake in a 1-1 draw at home to Lecce was an eye-opener precisely because it was the only one he made all season.

DEFENDERS
Thiago Silva -- AC Milan
The turning point in Milan's season perhaps wasn't the Sulley Muntari ghost-goal against Juventus, but rather what happened four days later when manager Max Allegri risked an unfit Thiago Silva against Roma. He pulled up after 10 minutes, missed a Champions League quarterfinal with Barcelona and then the rest of the campaign. Without the best center back in the world and a key playmaker in their system boasting the highest pass completion rate in Serie A, Milan had to give up the throne.

Andrea Barzagli -- Juventus
The renaissance man of the season. A member of Italy's World Cup-winning squad in 2006, Barzagli won the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg in 2009 but was almost forgotten back home. Signed by Juventus 18 months ago, he has become indispensable under manager Antonio Conte; along with Thiago Silva, Barzagli was the standout center back in Serie A, enjoying the highest rating among his peers in La Gazzetta dello Sport's famous pagelle for much of the campaign.

Francesco Acerbi -- Chievo
Rarely in the team, out of favor and disappointed not to leave in January, Acerbi was down on his luck at Chievo until the spring when he began to emerge as one of the most promising young defenders in Serie A. Highly regarded for his pace and power, the 23-year-old's assured displays appear to have persuaded Milan that, while no one can fill the departing Alessandro Nesta's boots, he is still a prospect worth investing in for the future.

MIDFIELDERS

[+] EnlargeAndrea Pirlo
Marco Luzzani/Getty ImagesAndrea Pirlo was a steal for Juventus in the midfield.

Antonio Nocerino -- AC Milan
"If Nocerino can play at the Camp Nou, then so can I," was the mocking refrain among skeptical Milan supporters in September. Wearing the No. 22 shirt, many thought he was unworthy of it until he scored a hat trick against Parma, prompting the club's chief executive Adriano Galliani to claim it was like seeing the jersey's former owner Kaka again. Arguably the value-for-money signing of the season, Nocerino's 10 goals from midfield is a Milan club record, bettering Romeo Benetti's total of seven in 1973.

Andrea Pirlo -- Juventus
Ask yourself: Would Juventus have won their first Scudetto in nine years were it not for Pirlo? The answer is probably: no. Milan's decision to allow him to leave for Juventus last summer came to define this season. Pirlo alone cannot account for the team's 26-point improvement from seventh to first place in the space of a year, but the overwhelming sense is that he made the difference. "I believe signing a player of his level for free was the deal of the century," Buffon said. "Watching him play, I thought: There is a God."

Claudio Marchisio -- Juventus
"I see myself in Marchisio," claimed Marco Tardelli, the Juventus legend and hero of Italy's 1982 World Cup triumph. Born and bred in Turin, brought up through the ranks at the club he supported as a boy, Marchisio realized his potential and his dream of winning a Scudetto. Juventus' second-top scorer with nine goals in Serie A this season, he was as important if not more so in the job he did protecting Andrea Pirlo with the excellent Arturo Vidal and recovering the ball, too. An all-rounder.

No. 10
Sebastian Giovinco -- Parma
"It's a shame the season has to end," Giovinco told reporters on Sunday. They're sentiments that are hardly surprising considering Parma won their last seven games in a row, a streak that owes a lot to a player once held up as the heir to Alessandro Del Piero. A career-high 15 goals, including one of the best this season, a sensational dipping half-volley against Siena, leaves the impression that this little big man is much more than a tricky gadget player.

STRIKERS

[+] EnlargeZlatan Ibrahimovic
AP Photo/Antonio CalanniZlatan Ibrahimovic led Serie A with 28 strikes this season.

Antonio Di Natale -- Udinese
Di Natale has intimated he might retire at the end of this season, and Udinese's ability to absorb the loss of star players every year will be tested if he hangs up his boots. A third straight 20-plus goal season, accounting for 44 percent of his club's total, went a long way to qualifying them for the Champions League two years running. Their 34-year-old captain and talisman is a player even Udinese can't replace.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- AC Milan
For the first time since 2003, Ibrahimovic is not a member of a league-championship winning team. And yet from several points of view, this has arguably been his best season to date. The top scorer in Serie A with 28 goals, he is the first player ever to achieve that feat in Italy with two different clubs.

Mattia Destro -- Siena
Rewarded with a place in the provisional 32-man Italian squad for Euro 2012, Destro has made his case to be considered the best young player in Serie A this season. The Siena striker scored 12 goals in his first campaign as a regular. No player under the age of 21 has found the net in the league so often since Roberto Bettega in 1971.

COACH OF THE YEAR -- Antonio Conte, Juventus

[+] EnlargeAntonio Conte
Valerio Pennicino/Getty ImagesAntonio Conte managed the first undefeated Serie A side since 1992.

Looking beyond Conte would be folly. By ending an entire season unbeaten in Serie A, a feat achieved only twice before (first by Perugia in 1978-79 and then Milan in 1991-92), he ensured a place in Italy's football pantheon. And yet, so much good work has been done by other managers in the league this season. It would be wrong to overlook the job Francesco Guidolin has done in qualifying Udinese for the Champions League again despite the sales of Cristian Zapata, Gökhan Inler and Alexis Sanchez. Elsewhere, Parma finished the campaign in better form than anyone thanks to Roberto Donadoni, finishing in eighth place. Yet perhaps the true revelation of the year was Catania under Vincenzo Montella; for much of the season, Catania played some of the most pleasing and generally innovative football on the peninsula, threatening to break the 50-point barrier until an indifferent end of the campaign put paid to that aspiration.

SUBSTITUTES

Samir Handanovic, goalkeeper -- Udinese
Giorgio Chiellini, center back -- Juventus
Arturo Vidal, midfield -- Juventus
Alessandro Diamanti, No. 10 -- Bologna
Edinson Cavani, striker -- Napoli

Honorable Mentions

Massimiliano Benassi, goalkeeper -- Lecce
Nicola Legrottaglie, center back -- Catania
Francesco Lodi, midfielder -- Catania
Luis Muriel, No. 10 -- Lecce
Fabrizio Miccoli, striker -- Palermo