In May, we all said our emotional final farewells to a true Juventus legend, one that gave everything he had for the club and then some. Gigi Buffon is off at Paris Saint-Germain now, but while he’s left a hole in terms of the immense legacy and stature he created in Turin, the club has much to look forward to in goal for years to come.
Last season, us fans were treated to the pleasure of not having to worry about things when Juve’s backup goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, played. This season, it will hopefully be more of the same. With two fantastic shot-stoppers in tow, one thing that Juventus doesn’t have to worry about is quality options in goal. Szczesny will most likely start the season as the first-choice keeper for Mister Allegri, looking to build off of his very strong first year at Juventus. Mattia Perin has arrived with a new club, city, and atmosphere to become familiar with, and with his mental fortitude and ability, I have no question he will acclimate well and give his all trying to beat out his fellow keeper in practice and matches.
Buffon will surely be missed, as his impact is immeasurable, but the void he leaves behind will not, in theory, result in a dip in performance from his successors. We will once again have much to look forward to in goal.
Signed to be the future No. 1 after Buffon’s final days as a Juve player, Szczesny probably didn’t figure to see nearly as much time as he ended up getting during the 2017-18 season. The former Roma shot stopper was up to the task, as he performed just as well as Buffon in all respects. Szczesny ended up tallying 1,530 minutes in Serie A competition this past year, while Buffon only a handful more at 1863.
Never once during the matches in which Szczesny started did I not feel confident, either.
The best span of Szczesny’s first season with Juventus was when Buffon went down with injury at the beginning of December. With several crucial matches coming in order of one another, most notably away to Olympiacos in the Champions League and against Roma at home, Woj stepped up in fine fashion. He recorded clean sheets in both matches and ensured quality at the back. One of my favorite moments of the season, and probably the play of Szczesny’s as well, was in that Roma match. In the dying moments, almost-turned-Juve striker Patrik Schick was in on a breakaway with only Szczesny to beat. Woj was having none of his former club taking the three points from Juventus, however, and made a phenomenal kick save.
Szczesny’s outstanding job throughout the final month of 2017 earned him the high remarks of the fans, as he’d win the December MVP of the Month award. During the Buffon-less month, Szczesny only allowed one goal while Juve recorded five wins and a draw across all competitions. It was quite the month, and his levels of consistency never waned even after Gigi returned.
The 25-year-old Perin will look to continue the tradition of Juventus possessing the Italian National Team first choice keeper, and he certainly fits the bill. Standing at 6-foot-2, Perin isn’t the tallest keeper you’ll ever see, but he more than makes up for it with his quick reflexes and fantastic athleticism. The fact that he still has these qualities is a testament to not only his quality, but his determination. As we all know, Perin has suffered from two torn ACLs in his career. However, he has come back sharper than ever and strengthened his mental makeup because of it. Perhaps this is Perin’s best attribute, in that he has a great head on his shoulders.
When he was signed at the beginning of the summer, Perin welcomed the opportunity to challenge Szczesny for the starting position, and waived off advances from other clubs where he would be guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup. Perin seems the best bet to be taking over from Buffon as Italy’s No. 1 going forward, as Gianluigi Donnarumma’s performances haven’t been up to standard as of late.
In Juventus’ first International Champions Cup friendly against Bayern Munich, Perin got the start and showed glimpses of what makes him so tantalizingly great in net. He was springing to make saves, such as the one on Franck Ribery’s shot at the beginning of the game or being quick of his line to snuff out chances. If he continues to put in performances like this routinely in the regular season, then it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him rival Woj sooner rather than later for the number one role.
Time will only tell if the mantle has been passed from Buffon to Perin — Italian to Italian — on both the club and international level. Hopefully, Perin can continue to put in high-level outings on the regular in his new digs. He has faced adversity in his career, and threats that could’ve ended his career have only made him stronger. This will come in handy when he takes on this new chapter in Turin.
Perin and Szczesny form the most formidable goaltending duo in Serie A. Having two top-end goalkeepers available to pick from is a gift, and one that will not go unappreciated.