In Serie A 2020, as it was all round the world, was a year like no other. Yet, it began in an eerily familiar way. Mario Balotelli, then at Brescia, netted the first goal of the 2020s, just as he had done a decade earlier, claiming the opening strike of the 2010s as well.
Atop the table come the midway point was another name which has cropped up once or twice before. However, while Juventus won the title handed out in 2020, they didn’t score the most goals (Atalanta), concede the fewest (Milan) or win the most points (Milan, again) during that unforgettable calendar year.
Across 12 months like no other, and at a time when an escape from reality was as desperate as ever, Serie A was at its enthralling best. Now poised with one of the most open title races across the continent, there is plenty more entertainment to come.
Gianluigi Donnarumma (GK) – Donnarumma may have racked up the playing time of a man halfway through his career, but Milan’s 6’5 goalie is still – somehow – 21 years of age. Over the course of the best 12 months he has ever enjoyed, Donnarumma lost just one Serie A game.
Hans Hateboer (RB) – The sight of Atalanta’s full-back bombing up and down the right flank has become all-too familiar and worrisome for opponents.
Stefan de Vrij (CB) – Anchoring Inter‘s back-three, De Vrij has proven equally adept with the ball at his feet as he is at challenging for it in the air. Having spent much of lockdown sating his voracious appetite for reading, De Vrij is all but qualified to write the book on defending after his 2020.
Matthijs de Ligt (CB) – An adaptation period was always expected for a player arriving in new league. As De Ligt would later highlight: “I suddenly had to forget all that I learned at Ajax.” Nevertheless, with a stronger grip of the language and a love of Turin as a city, Juve already have the next cog in their fabled defence for many years to come.
Theo Hernandez (LB) – Unquestionably the most decisive left-back in Serie A, if not Europe. The 23-year-old may steal the headlines for his work at the sharp end of the pitch, but is no passenger in his own defensive third.
Nicolo Barella (CM) – Few players have ever embodied Antonio Conte’s work-ethic maxim of ‘Eat Grass’ better than the dynamic and dexterous Barella. The 23-year-old has been the heart of Conte’s Inter team.
Ismael Bennacer (CM) – The former Arsenal youngster has been quietly pulling the strings during Milan‘s 2020 revival, breaking up opposition attacks and setting off those for his own side with an admirable efficiency from the Rossoneri’s double pivot.
Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez (CM) – Internal strife with his manager Gian Piero Gasperini hasn’t been able to take the shine off a career-best campaign from La Dea’s crown jewel.
Ciro Immobile (FW) – The reigning European Golden Shoe winner – ahead of the supposed ‘Best’ Robert Lewandowski – is often greeted with snide remarks regarding how many penalties he scores. But Immobile’s torrent of goals, from open play or otherwise, have helped a Lazio side punch well above their weight both home and abroad.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (FW) – Zlatan delivered a typical one-liner towards the end of last season when he boasted: “If I’d been here since day one, we would have won the title.” Well, had the season began on 1 January 2020, the day Ibrahimovic returned to San Siro, Milan would be top of the league. The ageless, self-proclaimed ‘lion’ – or ‘god’, when the mood takes him – has been integral to this calendar year surge, both on and off the pitch.
Cristiano Ronaldo (FW) – By sheer weight of numbers, Ronaldo has bludgeoned his way into this team of the year. Serie A’s top scorer in 2020 – with 33 goals in 29 appearances – continues to simply find the back of the net regardless of how well his team performs.
Wojciech Szczesny (GK) – Serie A’s goalkeeper of the year last season has only been bumped down by virtue of Donnarumma’s coming of age.
Simon Kjaer (CB) – Ibrahimovic wasn’t the only January arrival at Milan to have a transformative effect on the table-topping Rossoneri.
Luis Alberto (CM) – Without Luis Alberto’s midfield artistry, Immobile would have far less to work with and is well aware of the quality possessed by a player the Lazio frontman claims ‘knows me better than my wife’.
Josip Ilicic (FW) – Personal issues lured Ilicic away for much of 2020, but the mesmeric minutes he spent on the pitch were moments to cherish.
Romelu Lukaku (FW) – When you begin to challenge for records held by the legendary Brazilian Ronaldo, you know you’re doing something right.