There has certainly been no shortage of intriguing storylines in Serie A this season, from the resurgence of Napoli, Inter and Fiorentina to the complete overhaul undertaken by reigning champions Juventus. With teams like Sassuolo, Empoli and Torino impressing regular watchers of Italian football and traditional giants AS Roma and Milan struggling for results at different times, the game on the peninsula continues to capture the imagination.
With some of the bigger names failing to live up to their reputations, identifying the most impressive individual performers thus far throws up some unfamiliar faces, and what follows – lining up in a 3-4-3 formation – is a look at a Serie Best XI.
Goalkeeper: Samir Handanović (Inter)
It is somewhat surprising to see Inter sitting on top of the Serie A table as the New Year approaches. The Milan-based club vastly improved from their dire showing last term, but have done so thanks to a number of narrow victories. Ten of their twelve wins came by just a single goal, and that record is in no small part due to Samir Handanović.
The Slovenian international has recorded a clean sheet in all but seven of his seventeen 2015/16 appearances, yet according to statistics courtesy of Fox Sports, only three goalkeepers can better his tally of 54 saves. Far from being defensively sound, Inter’s results owe much to the man between the posts, and – with his current contract set to expire this summer – the Nerazzurri will hope to sign him to a new deal to ward off the likes of Liverpool and AS Roma.
Defender: Alessio Romagnoli (Milan)
While this season has seen their city cousins quickly improve their fortunes, Milan continue to struggle, currently sitting in sixth place but failing to find any level of consistency. Questions continue to be asked about the ownership of the club, but it seems their haphazard summer transfer campaign did secure the future of their defence, with Alessio Romagnoli looking hugely impressive.
Still only 20 years old, he joined the Rossoneri having forged a strong relationship with Coach Siniša Mihajlović during their time at Sampdoria last term. Tall, strong and an excellent tackler, Romagnoli has all the tools to be the next in a long line of great Italian defenders.
Defender: Kamil Glik (Torino)
Just as he has for a number of years, Kamil Glik continues to be the beating heart of Torino, the club captain leading by example at the heart of their three-man defence. A Polish international who has been repeatedly linked with Manchester United, the 27-year-old recently signed a new five-year contract with the Granata, meaning he will not come cheaply should the Old Trafford giants pursue their interest.
Defender: Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
There is little doubting the impact Coach Maurizio Sarri has had on Napoli, transforming a side who laboured under Rafael Benitez into genuine title contenders. Perhaps no player embodies that change more than Kalidou Koulibaly, the Frenchman looking calm and assured in the organised system now seen at the Stadio San Paolo.
Right Wing-Back: Šime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo)
Linked with Barcelona Juventus and Newcastle United, Šime Vrsaljko is enjoying a fine season on the right flank for Sassuolo. Routinely the only foreign player in their starting XI, it is easy to see why the 23-year-old is attracting such attention, blending keen defensive instincts with the energy and ability to support the attack.
He has been a major reason behind the success of the Neroverdi, but it remains to be seen how long they can hold on to the Croatian international should bigger sides come calling.
Central Midfield: Radja Nainggolan (AS Roma)]
As usual, AS Roma started the season brightly only to collapse as the festive period approached, struggling to collect points and once again calling the future of Coach Rudi Garcia into question. One player who continues to excel is Radja Nainggolan however, the combative Belgian doing all he can to push his side to victory.
Mentioned as a possible target for Liverpool and both Manchester clubs, he is a superb defensive midfielder who is also blessed with an excellent range of passing and often contributes some important goals.
Central Midfield: Riccardo Saponara (Empoli)
Despite losing key defender Daniele Rugani and Coach Sarri, Empoli have continued to impress regular watchers of Serie A, climbing up to seventh place and playing some wonderful football. Riccardo Saponara has been essential to that, his incredible creativity slicing through defences with ease and he has already notched five goals and six assists in 2015/16.
Left Wing-Back: Adam Masina (Bologna)
Newly promoted Bologna have begun to find form, notching some impressive results which included a surprising 3-2 victory over Napoli. Left back Adam Masina played well in that encounter, just as he did in helping secure a draw with Roma a month earlier, a game which saw him score his second goal of the campaign.
Also weighing in with three assists, the 21-year-old has a bright future ahead of him in a role where Italy have very few high quality options, which may see one of Serie A’s bigger clubs make a move for Massina.
Forward: Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli)
Finding the net 16 times in 17 Serie A outings means Gonzalo Higuain is undoubtedly the league’s most in-form striker, also weighing in with two goals in the Europa League. The Argentinean is constantly linked with a variety of clubs, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Bayern Munich among those believed to be interested in luring him away, yet he seems intent on first emulating compatriot Diego Maradona by bringing silverware to Southern Italy.
Forward: Nikola Kalinić (Fiorentina)
Were it not for Higuain’s exploits, the name of Nikola Kalinić might be getting more attention, the former Blackburn Rovers flop currently leading a resurgent Fiorentina side into title contention. He has bagged eleven goals in all competitions, a tally which includes strikes against Sampdoria, Napoli and a hat trick in the win over Inter.
Forward: Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
Reigning champions Juventus have shot back up the table over the past two months, going from 14th to 4th over that period and Paulo Dybala’s role in that cannot be understated. Signed from Palermo this summer for €32 million, the 22-year-old has quickly settled in Turin, contributing ten goals and three assists to help Max Allegri’s new look side mount a defence of the title they have won in each of the last four campaigns.