We’ve got the Champions League, the much maligned Europa League but if there was a knockout competition comprised of the top XI’s from Europe’s second divisions where would Serie B finish? As the first quarter of the season ends the column selects the stand out performers and those to compete in the inaugural Second Best League.
Firstly the coach. There are a number of candidates; Torino are top of the league so Giampiero Ventura has a fair shout, Fulvio Pea has guided Sassuolo to third and Piero Braglia, working under the nuisance of point penalties masterminded four consecutive wins with newly promoted Juve Stabia, but like The Lord of the Rings, there can be only one.
Zdenek Zeman, The Bohemian. The Czech might seem like a lot of hot air with his constant criticisms against referees, the FIGC and goings on in Serie A, but his reputation as a proponent of attacking football continues with Pescara. The Dolphins have 23 goals in the opening period and despite a little wobble, shipping ten in three games, Zeman seems to have steadied his side with consecutive clean sheets. If for nothing else, attacking, positive football is the style that should win the division.
Goal Keeper; Alberto Pomini (Sassuolo) The Neroverde has riden its luck at times with Pea’s midfield in a 4-3-3 being overrun but Pomini has been in game saving form. Sassuolo has the joint most clean sheets in the league (5) and in wins over Ascoli and Varese Pomini was unbeatable.
Central Defence; Angelo Ogbonna (Torino) Il Toro has the best defence in the league and that’s in no small part due to their young captain Ogbonna. Class to spare on the ball, rarely flustered,in June he became only the second Serie B defender in 18 years to be called up to the Azzurri and again made the squad for the qualifiers this month.
Central Defence; Martino Borghese (Bari) A resolute foil for Ogbonna’s ability, Borghese signed from promoted Gubbio in the summer and the 24 year old has played all 900 minutes of the season. After a sticky start Bari’s resurgence up the league, now fifth, has been achieved with four wins in five games, three of those with 1-0 scorelines. Strong and reliable, while Ogbonna can move the play forward from defence and make a four man midfield in attack, Borghese can sit and also offers a threat from corners.
Right Back; Matteo Darmian (Torino) A Milan youth product with experience in Serie A and the Europa League, Darmian’s summer loan move from Palermo is possibly his last schooling before a long career in the top division but in the mean time Torino are profiting from his reliability. Not a marauding wingback in the mould of Mattia Cassani he offers resolution in an attacking side.
Left Back; Paolo Castellini (Sampdoria) With the first three defenders an average age of 22.5 the experience and attacking threat of Castellini would suit Zeman’s method. In a Sampdoria side packed with names, the former Real Betis, Parma and Roma defender has owned his position, another making ten appearances in ten with two assists.
Centre Midfield; Alessandro Budel (Brescia) The Rondinelle was unbeaten in their first eight games, and Budel can be relied upon to tackle and hold in midfield while others go forward to attack.
Centre Midfield; Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria) The only non-Italian to make the starting line-up, at 19 years old the Atletico Madrid youth product has impressed with his poise on the ball and physicality in defence. Another young player with the energy to compliment and assist Budel, he has the qualities that would flourish under Zeman.
Attacking Midfield; Simone Missiroli (Reggina) Serie B’s answer to Javier Pastore, at 1.91m Missiroli can dribble, pass, cross and shoot. He’s notched five goals and three assists in the first quarter and played a blinder in the 4-2 thrashing against Pescara. With the freedom to move forward and assist the league’s best forwards a move to PSG surely awaits…
Forward; Lorenzo Insigne (Pescara) Probably the league’s best player so far in part due to Zeman’s tutelage, Insigne earned a call up to Italy’s Under 21’s this month after impressing with Pescara. Three goals and three assists only highlight the brilliance with which Insigne has harassed defences with his low centre of gravity, quick feet and scything runs from the flanks. He operates on the left of the attacking three, and would find Castellini a welcome support overlapping.
Forward; Rolando Bianchi (Torino) Bianchi has played in Serie A for Atalanta, Cagliari, Reggina, Lazio and Torino as well as a spell at Manchester City in 2007. At 28 he is in his prime and his ability in the air and accurate right boot make him a perfect option for Insigne and Missiroli to pick out. Three of his five goals this season have been match winners as Torino remains the only undefeated side in the league.
Forward; Ciro Immobile (Pescara) Another Zeman protégé at 21 years-old, he only scored two goals last season on loan to Siena and then Grosseto, but is the top scorer in the league with 8. A product of the Juventus youth system, Immobile has been terrorizing teams in Serie B with his movement in the central channel and lethal finishing inside the box. With Missiroli attacking from midfield and Bianchi distracting centre halves Ciro would be the man mopping up the goals for the Serie B XI.
A mixture of youth and experience, defensive solidity and attacking verve, we’ll have to see if it’s the same team in eleven games time.