As Juventus dropped points in all of its first three matches to begin the 2021-22 season, there was a question being raised that we hadn’t heard in a long, long time in Turin.
“Does Juventus have a serious problem at goalkeeper?”
Wojciech Szczesny’s rut to end the previous season extended into the new one, and there was no longer the safety net of having Gianluigi Buffon as Juve’s backup after he left over the summer and headed back home to try and get Parma back into Serie A. That meant Max Allegri, still very much new on the job again in Turin, had a decision to make — stick with Szczesny through the tough times and keep his No. 1 in goal or go with Juve’s new backup, Mattia Perin, the guy who was signed in 2018 to be competition for the starter’s spot.
Allegri held firm with Szczesny despite the game-changing errors, doing his trademark move of praising a player even though they’re going through a difficult period.
Those cracks that Juve’s No. 1 was starting to show were eventually paved over as the 2021-22 season went on. The talk of replacing Szczesny with Perin dissipated as time went on, with the Polish international’s form stabilizing and the costly errors essentially going by the wayside by the time the late-fall months arrived. Szczesny was looking like the goalkeeper he had been before those late-season mistakes came to the fore and we suddenly had to worry about a position that had been the least of our worries for essentially the previous two decades.
The unfortunate part of it all when it comes to Szczesny’s rebound from some seriously worrisome mistakes is that it came during a season in which Juventus’ defense was sometimes good but sometimes maybe crap. The end number of goals allowed in Serie A this past season (37) sure does look a lot like last season (38) even though Juve’s manager and his tactics are much, much more conservative and defensive minded than the guy who took over for.
Maybe those first handful of goals can be linked directly to Szczesny’s struggles, but the rest? Well, I’m not so sure about that. Juventus’ defense may look a lot different come the start of the 2022-23 campaign, but the man who has worn the No. 1 jersey for the last four years look pretty safe in his standing in goal.
Wojciech Szczesny — 6.5
If Tek didn’t have the early season struggles that he so obviously dealt with and cost Juventus some very precious points in the process, then this rating would be at least a half-point higher.
But, those mistakes happened, and it meant Juve dropped points.
The good thing is that after those early season struggles, Szczesny was essentially his usual self — and that’s really what the squad desperately needed.
Szczesny’s struggles to close out the 2020-21 campaign were for an extended period of time. Seriously, they lasted for weeks and weeks, from basically March until the end of the season in May. That’s a two-month stretch in which Juventus’ No. 1 goalkeeper was completely out of form and costing the team points in a stretch run where every point turned out to matter.
And it looked like those struggles were going to be a thing again to open the 2021-22 season based on how Szczesny’s first few games went. His mistakes were directly leading to goals and, as a result, Juventus dropping points. For maybe the first time in his Juve career, Szczesny’s status as Juve’s full-time starter in goal was looking a little wobbly.
I can’t imagine what having Allegri stand firm in Szczesny’s corner during those big-time mistakes in August and September meant. Things could have gotten bad and the streak of howlers could have gone on for an extended period of time like his struggles from the season before. But they didn’t, and that’s a credit to Szczesny himself as well as Allegri for keeping the faith and not making a knee-jerk reaction to how the season start.
In 33 Serie A starts, Szczesny ended up finishing with the fourth-best save percentage (74.3%) in the league. That is important because for the second time in his Juventus career, he faced over 100 shots on target, which means he wasn’t exactly taking advantage of a defense that sometimes gave him barely anything to do. (Despite all of Juve’s struggles, Szczesny did finish with the fifth-most amount of shutouts (12) in Serie A — which might speak more to how offensive and attack-minded the league has become rather than how good Juve’s defense was this past season.)
Oh, and let me just finish this talk about Tek with a question for everybody here: Would you want any other Serie A goalkeeper these days trying to stop a penalty with the game on the line? Dude is pretty good at easily one of the most difficult things a keeper has to do.
Mattia Perin — 6
The 2021-22 season is in the books and there is still a small piece of me that wonders why Mattia Perin is still at Juventus.
Not because he’s not good enough to be at Juve because he obviously is.
But it’s mostly because of that fact — Perin is a good goalkeeper and certainly capable of starting for a lot of the mid- or lower-table clubs in Serie A. (Even though the club he most recently played for before coming back to Juventus last summer is now playing at least one year in Serie B, so that’s somewhat ironic.) Perin is good enough to start for a lot of clubs, but instead chose to stick around at Juventus and be the backup, with Max Allegri clearly having some influence in that decision based on what was reported over the summer.
Perin’s season overall was kinda what you expect for a backup goalkeeper not named Gigi Buffon. There were some good moments, some moments where he showed his shortfalls and other games where he was just getting the job done.
Is he ever going to rival Szczesny for playing time like we thought he might when he first signed for Juventus in the summer of 2018? Nah, probably not at this point.
But knowing that he’s recently signed a contract extension for another three seasons, Juventus’ top two goalkeepers seem to be very much secure in their standing. When it comes to backup keepers in Serie A, there aren’t many better than Perin these days — which is pretty good considering that some other clubs in Italy would surely love to have him playing 30-plus times a season rather than almost exclusively in the Coppa Italia.
Carlo Pinsoglio — s/v
The 32-year-old Pinsoglio has now been with his hometown club for five seasons after spending six seasons out on loan at seven different clubs. I’m guessing the half-decade worth of stability has been quite the welcomed change from what he went through after his graduation from Juve’s primavera squad.
In these past five seasons, Pinsoglio has one thing in common: he’s played in one game.
In those five games, he has played more than 45 minutes just once and not allowed a goal just once, with this season’s appearance in the ill-fated and completely uninspiring finale against Fiorentina coming as a halftime substitute for Mattia Perin.
This is basically another way of saying that Pinsoglio has one of the best jobs around even though he rarely gets to play. He is very much the life of the party on the bench and in the dressing room, which is why Juventus so clearly like to keep him around as their third-choice goalkeeper rather than handing it to a much younger player like they’ve done in the past. (Not that there’s a youngster pushing to be part of the senior squad right now, but you know what I mean.)
This season grade is the same one that Pinso has gotten every year before, and it’s bound to be the same for as long as he is around at Juventus. At least we hope so.
The best mark of a third keeper’s season? By how little they end up playing — which means the starter and the backup keeper occupied pretty much all of the minutes and there were no emergency type of situations that we’ve seen pop up every so often over the years.
As I tend to say at this point in this annual post: Pinso forever. May he continue to be the class clown and continue to be totally cool with rarely playing at Juventus for as long as he wants to do so. He’s the right man for this job.