Serie A's Six Most Effective Wingers
With the increased use of the 3-5-2 formation on the peninsula, Serie A has suffered from a lack of attacking wide players in recent seasons, forced to rely instead on full-backs to provide crosses and stretch the pitch.
The departure of Emanuele Giaccherini, Gaston Ramirez and Alexis Sanchez only exaggerated a problem that already existed, making genuine wingers hard to find.
Juventus all but gave up on the role, jettisoning Eljero Elia and Milos Krasic after they failed to meet Antonio Conte’s demands. A long-term injury to the versatile Simone Pepe has seen his stock rise the longer he is absent and the club seem to be searching for a player to provide that tactical flexibility.
Elsewhere in the league however, a number of players have begun to fill the role well, drawing admiration from fans and the media, both at home and across the continent.
On the following pages—in no particular order—is a look at six of the best wingers on display in Italy’s top flight.
All stats are courtesy of WhoScored.com
Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina)
If the Colombian isn’t too widely known at the moment, that could very well change following this summer’s World Cup.
Already coveted by the larger Serie A clubs, he has displayed a versatility rarely seen in today’s game, capable of playing on either flank in an attacking or defensive role; he has also played in central midfield when necessary.
Yet it is his out-and-out speed which is his greatest weapon, launching endless counter-attacks that seem always to end at the feet of the league’s leading scorer, Giuseppe Rossi.
No player has completed more dribbles than Cuadrado (56) this season, while he has also added a further 27 in just three Europa League starts.
Gervinho (AS Roma)
The Ivorian has been unrecognisable in the Italian capital, no longer the frustrating player who dribbled into countless defenders and missed easy chances at Arsenal.
Instead he has found an incisive edge under former mentor Rudi Garcia, the French coach inspiring the 26-year-old into the form he showed at Lille.
In addition to his four goals and two assists, he has created room for either Francesco Totti or Mattia Destro to fill, with both players benefiting from his intelligent running off the ball. He has proven to be well worth the €8 million the Giallorossi paid for him this summer—not that many Arsenal fans will rue his exit.
Jose Callejon (Napoli)
Part of the former Real Madrid contingent currently firing Napoli back into the Champions League, the Spaniard has made an immediate impact under Rafael Benitez.
Usually starting on the left, he has been deployed all across the trident behind Gonzalo Higuain, terrorising defences wherever he plays.
Devastatingly fast, he is able to beat defenders almost at will and has been especially effective in a central role which then creates space out wide for Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne.
No team in Italy possesses three players capable of attacking at such speed, but Callejon also presses opponents well, averaging 2.2 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per game.
The former Valencia man has struggled to crack the first XI of Vincenzo Montella, making as many appearances from the bench (7) as he has starts in Serie A.
Yet the 32-year-old has still made an impact, netting twice in the Europa League where he has been given more playing time and showing regular flashes of the form we regularly saw in La Liga.
He has quickly endeared himself to the Viola faithful, notably netting the crucial third goal for his side in the 4-2 demolition of bitter rivals Juventus.
Juan Iturbe (Hellas Verona)
A major factor in the surprisingly good season being enjoyed by the Gialloblu, the Veronese club are being handsomely rewarded for their foresight in capturing the 20-year-old youngster.
Taking him on loan from Porto, the newly-promoted side have an option to buy Iturbe and seem certain to make a profit on him come the summer.
Usually fielded on the right of Andrea Mandorlini’s attacking 4-3-3 formation, he has linked well with veteran striker Luca Toni who also arrived in the summer. In addition to his wing play, he has also proven to be an excellent weapon on set pieces, netting a superb free-kick in the win over Livorno.
Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Narrowly holding Alessandro Florenzi off this list by virtue of being the more natural wide player but the least heralded of Napoli’s attacking quartet, Dries Mertens is having an excellent season.
Like Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne, he has rotated and switched between the three roles behind Higuain and proven effective in them all.
The 26-year-old was expensive, the southern club spending around €9.5 million to lure him from PSV, but he has been yet another shrewd investment by the club who have spent the fee they received for Edinson Cavani remarkably well.
His two-goal performance in Monday’s win over Sampdoria was perhaps the best display yet from a player hoping to grace the World Cup with Belgium.