Yet another incredible football season has reached its conclusion. The beautiful game has not failed to disappoint, providing the fans with some jaw dropping – as well as heartbreaking – moments over the last nine months.
We have witnessed some brilliant one-off individual displays and a few consistent performers. We’ve had breakout players, impressing at a young age and veterans proving that age is just a number.
As part of our end-of-the-season awards for Europe’s top-five leagues, we’re honouring the Player of the Year and Breakthrough Player of the Year (stars aged 23 and under who made significant strides in 2018/19).
Here, we look at the winners from Serie A .
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Duvan Zapata, Atalanta, 28 years old
Atalanta are on the cusp of securing a spot in the Champions League for the first time in their history. While Alejandro Gomez and Josip Ilicic have played a huge role in their storied success, Duvan Zapata deserves this individual award for his outstanding consistency in front of goal. On a two-year loan from Sampdoria, Zapata did not enjoy the best of starts, netting just once in his first 13 games. Toward the end of the 2018/19 season, the forward has 22 goals and seven assists to his name. Only Fabio Quagliarella has scored more goals and boasts of higher goal-involvements. Head coach Gian Piero Gasperini has worked wonders with the Colombian, unlocking his true talent by transforming him from back-to-goal target man, to a more direct and finessed forward. His contributions have fetched Atalanta 20 points this season, affirming himself as the top performer in the league.
Best performance: ‘Poker’ against Frosinone
Between early December and late January, Zapata enjoyed a stretch of 10 games in all competitions where he scored at least one goal in every match. The ‘poker’ (four goals) against Frosinone stands out as the best individual performance in Serie A this season.
What next for Zapata?
In 2013, West Ham and Estudiantes had agreed a deal for front-man Zapata, but he failed to obtain a work permit and the Premier League side pulled out of a move. Six years later and after a stellar season in the Serie A, the forward is yet again linked with a move to West Ham. While his physicality suits the Premier League, Zapata could well be targeted with clubs in a higher echelon. Everton is a potential landing spot but the 28-year-old won’t come cheap with estimates pricing him north of €40million.
Honourable mentions: Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria)
BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Krzysztof Piatek, Genoa & AC Milan, 23 years old
Before the season began, Piatek was an obscurity. Geona paid Polish outfit Cracovia €4 million for his services last summer and not much was thought of him. Fast forward to the present and the 23-year-old is now a Poland international drawing comparisons with Robert Lewandowski, plays his football for AC Milan and is widely considered to be one of the premier young goalscorers in Europe. He’s a predatory striker, evidenced by the fact he’s accrued 21 goals in Serie A this term but not provided one assist. But he is a well-rounded finisher, a scorer of differently styled goals. His link-up with fellow Rossoneri January recruit Lucas Paqueta has been a big feature and if the Brazilian can remain fit next season, with these two players, Milan can be a force. The fact Milan have even a sniff of securing a Champions League spot owes to Piatek’s success because before his arrival, they were toothless. His goals have been vital and there is no player with a bigger breakthrough in 2018/19 in Europe, never mind Italy.
Best performance: Brace against Atalanta
Among other top performances, the brace against fellow top-four competitors Atalanta away from home stands out as one of his best this season.
What next for Piatek?
Talent, numbers and hype at a young age breeds interest from top European clubs. Luka Jovic is most likely on his way to Real Madrid but there are other top clubs like Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United who require a centre-forward. A lot will of course hinge on Milan’s European involvement but given his recent struggles in front of goal, it seems staying put is the best place for his development.
Honourable mentions: Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Moise Kean (Juventus)
Daniele De Rossi will call time on his 18-year career with Roma at the end of the Serie A season.
The 35-year-old midfielder made his Giallorossi debut under manager Fabio Capello in October 2001.
After making 615 appearances and scoring 63 goals, he has decided to leave the Stadio Olimpico following Roma’s season-ending clash with Parma on May 25. He will not, however, be retiring from football.
“For 18 years, Daniele has been the beating heart of Roma’s team,” club president Jim Pallotta told asroma.com.
“From his debut in 2001 to taking on the responsibility of the captain’s armband, he always represented the Roma fans on the pitch with pride as he established himself as one of the best midfielders in Europe.
“We will all shed tears when he pulls on the Giallorossi shirt for the last time against Parma, but we respect his desire to prolong his playing career – even if, at almost 36, it will be away from Rome.
“On behalf of everyone at Roma, I’d like to thank Daniele for his incredible dedication to this club and ensure him that our doors will remain open for him to return to the club in a new role whenever he wants.”
De Rossi will address the media at Roma’s Trigoria training centre at 12:45 local time on Tuesday.
Provided by Press Association Sport
There is no other position in football more idolised than that of a No9.
Just glance through previous winners of the Ballon d’Or and the list is dominated by premier goalscorers.
While the dynamic of the role has changed in recent years with strikers now expected to contribute more than just goals, they still command the same prominence within teams, like lead singers in a band.
But which strikers are hitting the right notes? From tier one-four, we examine eight of the best in the world.
Harry Kane, Tottenham
There are strikers on this list who possess specialist attributes. Kane is an all-rounder, though, the most complete striker in Europe.
On the surface, Kane’s finishing is most striking. Acute angles, low or high, smashed or precise, he’s showcased an ability to score all sorts of goals, against any team, at any time.
But since ridding himself of the one-season wonder tag, Kane has also shed the notion he’s just a one-dimensional goalscorer.
Indeed, the 25-year-old frontman’s passing is pristine with his propensity to drop in and ping glorious balls over or through defences becoming a big feature of Tottenham’s attack.
The England international is not blessed with piercing pace, but his expert movement means he remains elusive in key areas.
His idol is Cristiano Ronaldo, and Kane is on his way to becoming idolised himself.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus
Ronaldo will be assessed, both by himself and the rest, through success in Europe, but Juve’s exit owed to their ponderous midfield as opposed to any profligacy from the Portuguese.
The statistics may point to a drop off in 2018/19 – his 19 league goals is seven less than last term and his six Champions League strikes was nine less than in 2017/18 – yet at 34, Ronaldo remains a freak of nature.
His mentality matches the physique, steely and conditioned for success. He this season became the first player ever to claim Serie A, Premier League and La Liga titles and was central to the Bianconeri’s triumph.
With unrivaled movement, predatory instincts and finishing ability, Ronaldo is one of the great goalscorers past and present.
Sergio Aguero, Manchester City
To be considered underrated is very much in vogue these days and while Aguero can hardly contest to be placed in that bracket, there is a sense he’s not appreciated in the way he should be.
The Argentine’s reinvention under Pep Guardiola has been absorbing. Poise and power in front of goal have long been hallmarks of Aguero’s game, but Guardiola has helped him become a more complete No9, to the extent Gabriel Jesus remains an understudy.
Ferocious in the press and immaculate at dropping in to link up with team-mates, Aguero has taken his talent to a new level, all the more impressive when you consider he’s 30.
Still, goalscoring his what he does best and there are few in world football better than City’s record marksman.
Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain
Ignore the football philistines who habitually refer to Ligue 1 as a ‘Farmer’s League’ and just appreciate the evocative talent of Mbappe.
There is no doubt the France forward will be entering the very top tier in the near future with more exposure in the Champions League.
Only Lionel Messi has scored more goals in Europe’s top-five domestic leagues in 2018/19 and Mbappe has guided PSG’s title gallop in the absence of injured stars Edinson Cavani and Neymar.
His speed across the ground is matched by his mind and what we’ve seen emerge is a supremely intelligent striker. Above all else, though, he’s a frightening player and Mbappe is primed to take the throne as the world’s best once Messi and Ronaldo vacate.
Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
Now, there may well be some controversy in the decision to hoist Benzema into Tier 3, but hear his case out.
In a similar vein to Kane, Benzema is a rare hybrid No9/10 and his perceived decline can be closely attributed to the self sacrifice of serving Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese departs and Benzema, at 31, enjoys his best goalscoring season in nearly a decade.
It’s been a wretched campaign for Los Blancos, the opposite is true for Benzema, though.
A true No9 in his cold finishing ability, the Frenchman’s link-up play remains elite and he more than warrants his spot among the premier strikers.
Luis Suarez, Barcelona
On reputation, Suarez could argue to be much higher but it cannot be ignored he’s lost a step recently, particularly in the bigger European contests.
For a striker so reliant on a tenacious mobility, the degradation of age is keenly felt. And it’s not just in his ability to swallow opponents up, but also spit out goals.
Chances have been missed and he’s lost a clinical edge. Still, the 32-year-old has scored 20 times in La Liga and that record is impossible to ignore.
The Uruguayan also showed in El Clasico what he’s capable of in isolated bursts. Yet judging him on individual ability and within the context of other No9s in Europe, he’s certainly dropped down.
Roberto Firmino, Liverpool
Signing a No9 is of paramount importance for Barcelona this summer and Firmino is actually the perfect candidate.
The Brazilian is a unique striker. The production of music is perhaps the best way to explain what Firmino offers. Artists are influenced by idols from different genres, taking pieces from each to form their own style.
Firmino is the same in that he possesses all the classical Brazilian flair, yet blends that talent with the work rate of a greyhound.
His hold-up play and calculated pressing is intrinsic to the way Liverpool play. Of course, he’s capable of stunning goals as well, which is why he’s one of the best in Europe.
Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich
Lewandowski is a mirror of Suarez. Both are enduring relative declines and neither have done the business in key European fixtures, however, the two showed flashes of their class against eternal rivals this season.
The Pole was a one-man demolition team when his brace destroyed Borussia Dortmund earlier this year. But those performances have been few and far between.
His exploits in front of goal in recent seasons have been outstanding, however, breaking the 40-goal barrier in each of the last three entire campaigns.