The first part of our annual season ratings has always been so easy for me. Not just because I get to talk about goalkeepers, but I would basically get to talk about the dude I idolized as a kid and type 1,000-something words about him without much shame whatsoever. It essentially became the latest in a series of Gianluigi Buffon-themed posts where much praise and very little criticism was being handed out by yours truly.
This season was different for me — and probably a lot of us, I’d imagine.
For the first time since the summer of 2001, Buffon wasn’t the starter in goal for Juventus, and obviously won’t be mentioned all that much in this post going forward. Instead, the starting goalkeeper position — and the No. 1 jersey — was handed over to Wojciech Szczesny, the man who deputized for Buffon last season. It didn’t matter that it was essentially a year-long transition from one goalkeeper to another, it was different — very, very different — to see somebody other than the man who has accomplished so much in the near-two decades he was Juventus’ starting goalkeeper.
And even with the presence of Mattia Perin, who has been long talked about as one of Italy’s brightest young goalkeepers and was obviously signed from Genoa to provide some competition, it was Szczesny’s job from the onset.
Maybe there were some doubts at the start of the season. But if those same doubts were present come Szczesny’s final start of the season two weeks ago against Roma, then I’m not quite sure what he could have done to try and convince you otherwise.
In the end, it was Szczesny’s job from the jump, and there was no reason why it should have ever been questioned.
Szczesny never was going to be Buffon, nor did he have to be or should we have expected him to be. But it was clear from his very first start of the season and throughout the 2018-19 campaign that he wasn’t intimidated or shying away from replacing a goalkeeper who is the best to ever play this game. And because of that, any kind of battle for playing time between himself and Perin never became a thing.
Szczesny will never be the GOAT — and that’s perfectly OK in my book. But, based on how he played this season, he’s pretty damn good as is, which is quite acceptable considering whose starting spot he was taking over.
Wojciech Szczesny — 8.5
If there was ever a doubt about Szczesny’s status as a full-time starter at a big club like Juventus, I think it’s safe to say that those were squashed pretty quickly.
I don’t know if Szczesny could have done a whole lot more than what Juventus asked him to do in goal this season. I really don’t. In a season where it became crystal clear that Juve weren’t the brick wall of a defense that they have been in previous seasons, they needed a goalkeeper who had the ability to come up big and not become a massive question mark just months after Buffon played his final game with the club.
Szczesny set the bar high during his 17 Serie A appearances last season while he served as Juventus’ backup goalkeeper. But, even then, it was just a continuation of what he had done during his two seasons with Roma, establishing himself as one of the better goalkeepers that Serie A has to offer and restarting a career that had seen him fall out of favor at Arsenal.
But, even though it wasn’t in Juventus colors, this happened over the summer — and we were left to wonder (at least a little bit) if Szczesny was the right choice to be the first one to try and replace a legend like Buffon.
The good thing is that Tek left that boneheaded gamble — and anything really resembling it at all — back in Russia.
The knock on Szczesny during his Arsenal days was that he was a goalkeeper with plenty of talent, but it was inconsistency that ended up being his biggest enemy. Basically, the thing that was truly holding Szczesny back was Szczesny himself. But ever since he’s been in Italy, it’s been quite the maturing process, one that has benefited him greatly when it comes to how he’s been playing the last three or four years.
This season was the biggest example of that. Obviously the ability to study under somebody like Buffon for a year was incredibly beneficial, and the fact that Szczesny never was afraid to talk about how big of a role San Gigi played in where he is now is just further confirmation of what kind of work relationship — and friendship — the two had even though they both figured one was going to being taking over for the other.
Now, much like Buffon, Szczesny is never going to lead the league in saves simply because teams aren’t barreling down and putting Juventus’ goal under siege like a good portion of teams in the bottom half of the table. Szczesny finished 18th in the league in saves with 62, just about 2 1⁄2 times fewer than the league leader, Cagliari’s Alessio Cragno.
But what Szczesny didn’t have in front of him was a dominant defense. Sure, there was another badass kind of season from Giorgio Chiellni, but it’s not like Leonardo Bonucci was pre-Milan Leonardo Bonucci or Alex Sandro and/or Joao Cancelo being anything but defensive stalwarts. The fact that Szczesny finished with had the same amount of clean sheets (11) that he did last year despite appearing in 11 more games is proof of that. Juventus’ defense was far from what it has been when Buffon was in goal ... or even what it was last season, for that matter.
Despite all of that, Szczesny finished with the lowest goals against average amongst Serie A goalkeepers (0.71) and one of the highest save percentages (66.7). (And don’t forget the handful of saved penalty kicks that he had in both Serie A and the Champions League, too.)
Szczesny will, without a doubt, be one of Juventus’ highest-rated players this season. He deserves it, too.
Mattia Perin — 6
We entered the season thinking that Perin and Szczesny were going to be in a “battle” for playing time in goal. What it turned out to be was anything but that.
The battle for playing time quickly turned into a one-man show.
If it was a battle for playing time that Perin expected when he signed from Genoa for €12 million last summer, then that never arrived. Szczesny’s spot as Juve’s No. 1 was quickly established, and as much as Max Allegri might have wanted to rotate the two, it became increasingly difficult with how well Szczesny was playing.
As it turned out, Perin played all of 810 Serie A minutes in his first season with the eight-time defending Italian champions. And when he was in goal, he very much looked like a goalkeeper who was in need of consistent playing time. His decision making wasn’t always as good as it was when he was with Genoa, and there were certainly a couple of times where Perin could have done better on goals he allowed.
All in all, it was a mixed season for Juventus’ backup goalkeeper, and certainly one that he probably didn’t envision taking place when he made his much-anticipated move to a big club last summer. (He wanted Champions League football ... and didn’t play a minute in Europe this past season. Oh well.)
With so many talented young goalkeepers coming through the ranks on the national team level, it will be interesting to see where Perin stands if he continues to be the backup behind Szczesny that only gets 10 or so appearances throughout the course of a season.
Then again, Perin was fully aware of the situation he was going to be getting into when he signed for a club like Juventus and who was already here. And he wanted the challenge. Now, as he comes off a serious shoulder injury, Perin’s going to be heading into quite an important season in 2019 both in terms of his future at Juventus as well as with the Italian national team.
Carlo Pinsoglio — s/v
This continues to be the kind of rating that you want your third choice goalkeeper to have each and every season. Because Pinsoglio doesn’t get a rating, it means that he wasn’t forced into any kind of significant action.
Last season Pinsoglio got the call off the bench in Buffon’s final match with Juventus. This time, Pinsoglio got his first-ever start in a Juventus jersey in the season finale against Sampdoria, a nice little nod from Max Allegri toward a guy who understands his role at the club about as well as anybody in the locker room.
Pinsoglio is quite the popular figure in the squad, and he has become one of the players to watch whenever Juventus celebrates their latest trophy. And when it comes to being a goalkeeper at the club he joined as a youngster two decades ago in 2000, that probably isn’t so bad, either.