If you had to pick an adjective to describe the current Serie A season, “balanced” would probably be towards the top of the list when you consider Inter are only a point behind Juventus, we have six teams within five points of the Champions League zone while all three newly promoted teams have been far from pushovers.
The balance we are experiencing is confirmed by the fact that it’s very difficult to come up with a definitive answer as to who has been the best individual player in the first third of the season. Cristiano Ronaldo is off to a slow start, Napoli’s best players have been impacted (and are responsible) from the chaotic start, while Inter have multiple candidates.
Let’s go through the stand out players, starting with those who are head and shoulders above their teammates so far which makes them even more valuable:
Ciro Immobile- while his teammate Luis Alberto has been outstanding this season, Lazio’s main striker is probably the safest best for Serie A player of the season so far. After coming off a disappointing 2018/19 campaign at least for his lofty standards in the Italian league, Immobile now already has fourteen goals making him a virtual lock for his fourth season with 20 or more which would tie him with the player he most reminds me of- the great Toto’ Di Natale. In addition to his fourteen goals, Immobile has also 5 assists.
Alex Meret- the fact that keeper has been clearly Napoli’s best player so far this season truly sums up their struggles. The former Udinese player has been very busy since Koulibaly has been a shell of his former self since playing in the Africa Cup, Manolas has battled injuries and a once mighty midfield is leaking as much as a former member of the Trump administration. On the bright side, Meret has made the most of his opportunities and has been flat out brilliant- but Napoli better hope his opportunities to shine start dropping dramatically after the international break.
Gaetano Castrovilli- after previous experiences at Bari and Cremonese, the midfielder born in 97 finally made his debut in Serie A. Fiorentina actually intended to loan him out again, but he impressed Montella during the summer retreat and has now a strong hold on a starting role. Castrovilli has two goals to go with his three assists and is now part of Roberto Mancini’s quad on the Azzurri, he surpasses his more famous teammates because he’s been more consistent than Chiesa and Ribery’s three game suspension have really hurt Fiorentina.
Domenico Berardi- after a series of somewhat disappointing seasons, everyone stopped calling him the Italian Robben. But while he has slowed down a bit after a gangbuster start to the 2019/20 campaign, Berardi already has two assists to go with seven goal and this is with Sassuolo having played one less match (against bottom of the table Brescia) this season because of president Squinzi’s death. It’s hard to believe because he’s been in our lives for so long, but Berardi is still only 25, maybe he’s finally ready to make a permanent leap.
Joao Pedro- at first, I thought Cagliari were this season’s version of Torino- a team that is very hard to play against and one that won’t beat itself. But in recent weeks, the Sardinian club look more like what Atalanta was like in the 2018/19 campaign. To Maran’s credit, Cagliari are now tied for third place with a plus eleven goal differential (the same as Juventus) after selling their best player Niccolo’ Barella to Inter and with their outstanding keeper Cragno and top goal scorer from last season, Pavoletti, both missing all the games so far with injuries.
While it would be easy to pick Radja Nainggolan to represent Cagliari because of name recognition and his recent performances, Joao Pedro has been more consistent and has more than adequately replaced Pavoletti by scoring 6 goals. After being linked to Atalanta last summer, Joao Pedro recently signed a well deserved extenstion.
Chris Smalling- after a great summer and start to the Serie A season, Edin Dzeko has slowed down partly because of fatigue and as a result of all the injuries to Fonseca’ midfield. On the other hand, Smalling has been steadily improving and now even looks like an upgrade to Kostas Manolas- the British defender also gets bonus points for doing all this while being a vegan in the Carbonara capital of the world.
Smalling has been an attentive defender and has even exceeded expectations with his ball distribution, which is very important for center backs in Fonseca’s system which typically builds from the back. Roma are already working on acquiring Smalling on a permanent basis after paying Manchester United 3 million for a one season loan.
Individual dark horses- don’t let the fact that most of his goals came off penalties taint your opinion, Andrea Belotti has continued the momentum from second half of 2018/19 campaign into the new season and now looks entrenched as Mancini’s number 9 on the Azzurri. Dejan Kulusevski has been the best player under 20 in Serie A and is already being linked to Inter (he’s owned by Atalanta but currently on loan at Parma) while Luis Muriel still has amongst the highest goals per minute played average in all of Europe.
What’s missing from this list so far? Aside from a member of Milan’s squad, we have yet to single out anyone on the top two teams in the standings, but they are represented by collectives for different reasons:
Stefano Sensi, Stefan De Vrij and Lautaro Martinez- had the former Sassuolo midfielder stayed healthy through out the season, he might be at the top of the list for the entire league, but he has only 6 starts. De Vrij has more than made up for Skriniar struggling a bit in a three man defense and Godin having to get acclimated to a new league, while Lautaro Martinez has made a huge impact even when he didn’t score (think of the penalty he earned against Bologna). Lukaku and Barella are also worthy honorable mentions but they did also come in for massive transfer fees.
Leonardo Bonucci, Miralem Pjanic, Juan Cuadrado and Gonzalo Higuain- while for Inter you can pick from so many options because the team has made a significant improvement from last season, at Juventus this list has more to do with Ronaldo’s less than stellar start, Ramsey and Douglas Costa missing significant time and Chiellini being hurt.
Bonucci has been considerably better defensively although his long passing isn’t as important for Sarri’s system, Cuadrado has more than adequately replaced Joao Cancelo’s offensive output while also not being a complete liability defensively and Higuain is in the John Travolta in Pulp Fiction phase of his career.
Sarri did say that his Juventus would never look like his old Napoli so while Pjanic isn’t playing exactly the Jorginho role, he has been outstanding while handling a much larger volume of passes