Once the backbones of Juventus’ success, the club’s defensive unit is far from what it was when Max Allegri was first leading the Bianconeri to a pair of Champions League finals in the span of three seasons. As the seasons have gone by since that 2015 final, the more and more goals on average we have seen allowed per game.
The internal debate can take over your mind sometimes: How much of that is on the defense? How much of it is on the team as a whole? How much of it is on the goalkeeper who is both organizing said defense in front of him as well as stopping shots?
In what felt completely opposite to how things played out, Juventus actually finished with the second-best defense in Serie A. Although, it’s safe to say that being the second-best defense in Serie A this season isn’t exactly what it was a few years ago when Juventus allowed nearly half the number of goals they allowed in the 2020-21 campaign (38).
With all of that being said, Juventus’ goalkeeping showed some cracks this past season after being thrown into the category of “they’re the least of our worries” for the last couple of years. For as incredibly consistent as Wojciech Szczesny had been in his first two seasons as Juventus’ full-time starter, this year was a little different. There were some cracks — especially late in the season — and the fact that Juve played quite well when Buffon came in only added to the dynamic in the final months of the season as the squad’s form was on a serious downturn.
Just as I said last year, we knew Juve’s defense was far from what it was in the heights of the Scudetto run. And with the concept of a “clean sheet” being about as foreign as ever, Juve’s goalkeepers were about as busy as they have been in the past decade.
How did it all turn out? Let’s take a look.
Wojciech Szczesny — 6.5
If the season had ended in early March, this rating would probably be at least a point higher. But, because of how Szczesny closed the 2020-21 season, a potential 7.5 or 8 is much lower than that.
For the first time in his Juve career, Szczesny struggled for an extended period of time. He’s had a few moments where he’s made mistakes and that has cost Juventus here and there over the last couple of years, but the way Szczesny closed out the season wasn’t exactly what you would call convincing.
We all know the catch when it comes to stats with Juve keepers: you have to take them with a little bit of a grain of salt (at least) because they’re never going to face as many shots as other teams simply because of how teams approach their games against the Bianconeri. But, with that being said, Szczesny’s save percentage of 70.5% was the lowest he’s recorded since he first came to Italy on loan at Roma.
But more than the low save percentage or the fact that the goals allowed this season (32) was essentially the same as last season (33) or that his number of shutouts were cut in half from 11 to 5, it’s the big mistakes that highlighted how Szczesny closed the season more than anything else.
There will always be the “What if” moment if he was able to save the free kick against Porto. There were the mistakes in the second Derby della Mole of the season where he played one of his worst games in a Juventus jersey. There was the massive mistake on the first goal in the 3-0 loss to Milan late in the season. There are others, too.
Basically what I’m getting at is that Szczesny’s final stretch of the season was essentially as memorable for the mistakes and fumbles he made rather than the key saves he made that helped Juventus win games. And knowing that he had been so steady and consistent during the better part of the last two years, seeing him struggle and not have the mistakes be a one-off was the most concerning thing of all as his status as Juve’s No. 1 is anything but certain at this point.
Gianluigi Buffon — 10
I did it when Buffon left Juventus the first time three years ago and I am doing it again here.
I am guessing that there will be very few objections. Nor should there be.
Despite who Buffon is and what he has accomplished throughout his career, it still blows my mind that he is able to what he has done at this age and be such a consistent performer despite not playing all that consistently over the course of an entire season. (Although one could argue that at his age, this is the perfect kind of role for him so that his body has plenty of time to recover between each start.)
Yet, here we are, a week separated from a 2020-21 campaign in which San Gigi turned 43 YEARS OLD and we can say that Juventus finished the season with the same amount of losses in his appearances that they started with. That’s right, folks. In his 14 appearances in all competitions this past season, Juventus won 12 of those games and played out two draws without a damn loss. That’s ... pretty remarkable when you consider all of the issues that Juventus, as a team, had throughout the season.
One of the most remarkable things out of all of this?
It was this season where he had the highest save percentage of his entire career. Sure, the sample size is smaller than when he was a starter, but that’s still something that jumps off the page, doesn’t it? Buffon, in half the amount of appearances, recorded more clean sheets (6) than Szczesny did (5). And, just for the topper on all of this, he did this OVER THE AGE OF 40 YEARS OLD, FOLKS.
Those numbers would be fantastic for any backup goalkeeper. But when it’s Buffon and it’s when he celebrates his 43rd birthday midway through the season and still performs at the level that he did, it’s pretty remarkable. And it also shows you just how good of shape Buffon is in to continue to be at that level more often than not when he does step onto the field these days.
Like everybody else here, what Buffon’s next move ends up being will be extremely interesting to see. At this point in time, he can really do whatever the heck he wants and nobody should object to it. He’s earned that right to go out and do as he so pleases — whether it’s being a backup at a big club or, say, going back to Parma for one last season and helping them try to get back to Serie A.
All I know is that I wish Buffon was still around because he’s still such a capable keeper. There was only one person that could make the No. 77 keeper kit look cool, and it was Buffon.
Carlo Pinsoglio — s/v
Here we are at the end of another season and I am searching for another way to describe just what Pinsoglio does for a living as one of the best jobs a person ever gets the chance to have.
He is the third-choice goalkeeper at a club like Juventus — and, sure, this past season was tough but you know the guy still had a damn good time — while hanging out with the guy who he grew up idolizing as a Turin native.
Then you throw in the fact that Pinsoglio is a one-man rooting section for his teammates along with a pretty damn entertaining presence and you’ve got a guy who really is the kind of guy who is tailor made for this role on the squad.
You know that voice you heard during the course of matches that was an octave or two above just about everybody else? That was Pinsoglio, and that is only a fraction of what has made him one of the most endearing players on this Juventus team even though he played a grand total of ... 23 minutes all season.
That is exactly what you want out of your third-choice goalkeeper. In most seasons, getting thrown a bone and coming off the bench on the final day of the season is the only action that somebody in Pinsoglio’s shoes is going to get. While he is a better goalkeeper than any of us are, he’s not the player that you actually want to play simply because you know it’s out of a great necessity rather than by choice.
In short: Pinso forever. He’s the right man for this job.