The second of our articles focusing on the best young players of 2010/11 sees our attentions turn to Serie A. With only those players aged 21 or under at the start of last season up for consideration, our XI takes the same shape as champions Milan; a 4-3-1-2 gives the side a solid base and allows what is, undoubtedly, a world-class trio of attacking talents the freedom to run riot against opposition defences. Here’s how they line up:
Mattia Perin, Genoa. Age 18. 1 appearance, WhoScored.com rating 7.06.
Along with Brescia’s Nicola Leali, Perin was one of only two keepers under the age of 21 to appear in Serie A last season. Both youngsters played just one league game though, and Perin is given the nod between the posts for his greater match rating. His only appearance saw him make an outstanding 9 saves in a 3-2 home win over Cesena and hinted at his prodigious talents.
Gaetano Berardi, Brescia. Age 22. 27 appearances. WhoScored.com rating 6.59
Frederik Sorensen, Juventus. Age 20. 17 appearances. WhoScored.com rating 6.59
Berardi’s adaptability saw him play in as many as seven different positions for Brescia last season, and he grabs a place here at left-back. Sorensen broke into the Juventus first-team in November and his tough-tackling performances at right-back were one of the few positive aspects of a disappointing season that saw his side finish eighth. With Berardi’s more creative game on the left, Sorensen’s never-say-die attitude brings a perfect balance on the opposite flank.
Sorensen made a brilliant 3.8 tackles per game, more than any Juve player, and easily betters Berardi’s still-impressive 1.9. Sorensen also stood out with his clearances (4.5 per match), slightly edging Berardi on 4.2. Berardi does come out better in interceptions and blocked shots, with 2.3 and 0.4, compared to Sorensen’s 1.6 and 0.1 respectively.
While Sorensen offers more bite at the back, Berardi is the more dangerous of the pair going forward. He had 81% pass accuracy and makes 0.7 key passes per game, in addition to delivering an average 0.5 crosses. In comparison, Sorensen had 78% pass accuracy, 0.3 crosses and 0.2 key passes- clearly the creative side of his game is yet to evolve.
Giuseppe Bellusci, Catania. Age 21. 9 appearances. WhoScored.com rating 6.81
Ezequiel Muñoz, Palermo. Age 20. 34 appearances. WhoScored.com rating 6.62
First-choice centre half for Palermo at the age of 20, Muñoz is one of seven players under 21 who managed 10 or more Serie A appearances for the club last season and his performances are a clear vindication of their faith in youth. Bellusci established himself in Catania’s first-team in late October but an injury sustained in January stopped an impressive campaign in its tracks- nevertheless he offered plenty in his 9 appearances to suggest a bright future lies ahead for the centre-half.
Muñoz leads the way on tackles, with 1.9 to Bellusci’s 1.6, though the Catania man’s 3.1 interceptions beats Muñoz’s 2.7. Muñoz also makes an impressive 5.9 clearances, highlighting his reading of the game. The pair both recorded 0.8 blocked shots per game and of the two, Muñoz was less disciplined in the challenge, making 1.1 fouls per game to Bellusci’s 0.7
Muñoz fared better for goal threat too, with 0.6 shots to Bellusci’s 0.2 and his distribution from the back stands up to inspection, with an 83% pass accuracy. His commanding presence in the air saw him win 60% aerial duels, with Bellusci winning 50%.
Andrea Poli, Sampdoria. Age 21. 21 appearances. WhoScored.com rating 6.42
Kwadwo Asamoah, Udinese. Age 22. 38 appearances. WhoScored.com rating 6.97
Andrea Bertolacci, Lecce. Age 20. 9 appearances. WhoScored.com rating 7.00
Our centre midfield three continue the solid base set by our back four, with plenty of steel through the middle. Andrea Poli of Sampdoria is the deepest-lying of our trio; with 2.5 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game, he demonstrates real consistency in the challenge. Poli also has the best pass accuracy (84%) of our three midfielders and played the lowest number of long balls (1.4), an indication of his tidy, risk-free game when in possession. With the XI’s flair further forward, his job would be to keep things nice and simple.
Udinese’s Kwadwo Asamoah takes his place in our XI just to the left of Poli, with Andrea Bertolacci of Lecce on the right. Both players games offer plenty of variety- Bertolacci’s combative game sees him average a brilliant 3.1 tackles and 1.9 interceptions but it’s not just his defensive stats that impress- he scored 3 goals from 9 games and, averaging 1 shots per game, scored 1 goal with every 3 attempts.
Asamoah is the more skilful and creative of the two- he made 1 key pass per game compared to Bertolacci’s 0.2 and his ability is apparent with 1.2 successful dribbles to Bertolacci’s meagre 0.3. Asamoah averaged 0.6 shots per game, scoring 2 goals and picking up 4 assists. His passing was superior to Bertolacci, too, with 83% accuracy to 77%, and an ability to vary his distribution saw Asamoah make 2.8 long balls per game. Defensively, he puts in a shift, too; with 1.9 tackles and 1.6 interceptions, Asamoah seems to have very little flaws in his game.
Playmaker and Forwards
Javier Pastore, Palermo. Age 22. 35 appearances. WhoScored.com rating 7.17
Alexis Sanchez, Udinese. Age 22. 31 appearances. WhoScored.com rating 7.53
Pato, AC Milan. Age 21. 25 appearances. WhoScored.com rating 7.08
Our front three is a real force to be reckoned with- a frightening combination of skill and creativity, topped with a killer ability to find the net. Similar to his role at Palermo, Javier Pastore plays in the hole behind a deadly front pairing of Pato and Sanchez, an indication of the top quality young forward talent in Italy’s top division. The performances of both Pastore and Sanchez have seen the pair linked with moves away from Serie A this summer- their departure would see a substantial drop in class.
Pastore leads the way as key creator, with 2.2 key passes per game, though Sanchez’s 1.6 is also a standout stat. All three are a constant goal threat, with Pastore managing 2.3 shots per game, slightly better than Pato (2) and Sanchez (1.9). The trio’s skill on the ball, though, would see them open up the very best of defences- Sanchez made 3 successful dribbles per game, Pastore 2.6 and Pato 1.5; an outstandingly talented attacking trio.
For distribution, both Pato and Sanchez fare slightly better than Pastore (75% to 73%) and when it comes to goal threat, all three hit double figures in a division where goals are notoriously difficult to come by. Pato leads the way with 14 goals and 3 assists, Sanchez chips in with 12 goals and 6 assists and Pastore bagged 11 goals in addition to his 6 assists. With these three players as the main attacking threat for our Serie A Under 21 team, it’s difficult to imagine any defence being able to contain them.