For so long, Juventus dominated Serie A and Milan. 

Juve won nine successive Scudetti before being dethroned by Inter last season. Gianluigi Buffon was involved in eight of them. 

But it's a period of change in Turin, where Wojciech Szczesny is well and truly under the microscope after an error-riddled start to the 2021-22 season. 

As Juve struggle defensively, form could hardly be more contrasting heading into Sunday's blockbuster showdown in the northwest of Italy. 

Milan have continued to be a solid defensive outfit, winning their opening three league fixtures, and the resurgent Rossoneri could strike an early dagger to the heart of the Old Lady.

 

Woeful Woj as Allegri tries to avoid unwanted record 

"I think Juventus will regret not signing Donnarumma for a long time." 

That was Mino Raiola – the agent of Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma – speaking to Rai Sport on Friday. Based on what has transpired so far, he is right. 

The star Italy goalkeeper had been tipped to swap Milan for Juve in the off-season before moving to the French capital on a free transfer. Juve must be shaking their heads after watching Szczesny's torrid start to the season under Massimiliano Allegri. 

Allegri has had his hands full since returning to Allianz Stadium after two seasons away, replacing Andrea Pirlo. The title-winning boss is trying to navigate the exit of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. If the departure of the almost-irreplaceable Ronaldo was not hard enough, Szczesny has made life even more difficult. 

The former Arsenal keeper has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, his two howlers against Udinese and Napoli the catalyst for Juve's winless start to the campaign. 

The Bianconeri could go without a victory in their first four Serie A seasonal matches for the fourth time in their history, after 1961-62, 1955-56 and 1942-43. In those campaigns, Juve did not go on to win the title. They have never lost three of the first four Serie A games in a season. 

They have conceded five goals in three matches and are yet to keep a clean sheet domestically, shipping goals in each of their past 17 league games – only twice have Juve conceded in more consecutive Serie A fixtures (19 in 2010 and 21 in 1955). That 17-game run is the worst of its kind across the top-five European leagues since March. 

 

Szczesny's numbers do not make for pretty reading.

Since 2018-19, the Poland international has conceded 90 goals in 90 Serie A appearances with expected goals against (xGA) of 99.88, suggesting he should have let in nearly 10 goals more. For some comparison, Buffon's xGA-goals conceded difference – goals he prevented, in other words –was 2.62 from 17 matches, so Szczesny holds his own there.

The numbers do not get much better, though. A maligned figure from his days at Arsenal, Szczesny has shipped 99 goals in 107 Serie A games for Juve. Since 1994-95, his average of 0.93 goals conceded is worse than ex-Juve goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar (0.70 from 46 goals conceded in 66 games), Buffon (0.76 from 373 conceded in 489 matches), Michelangelo Rampulla (0.85 from 33 conceded in 39 fixtures) and Angelo Peruzzi (0.85 from 120 conceded in 141 appearances).

Szczesny – with a save percentage of 72 and an average of 2.49 stops per 90 minutes – has committed three errors leading to goals during his time with Juve in Serie A. Since 2004-05, only Buffon managed more (13), albeit in 391 games.

This season, Szczesny's expected goals against is 5.86 through three matches. Milan counterpart Mike Maignan's figure stands at 2.33.

When Milan refused to meet Donnarumma's demands, they wasted little time turning to Maignan, who had just led Lille to a shock Ligue 1 title after upstaging PSG.

Maignan has been a steady presence in Milan with a joint-league-high two clean sheets, while the France international tops the list in save percentage (90), well ahead of Szczesny (66.67).

 

Kjaer spearheading Milan back to summit

While Juve duo Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt lick their wounds, Simon Kjaer and Fikayo Tomori continue to flex their muscles at San Siro.

In the era of three points per win, Milan have won each of their first four Serie A seasonal games only twice: in 1995-96 under Fabio Capello and last season with Stefano Pioli at the helm. The Rossoneri won the title in 1996, while they finished second to Inter in 2020-21.

High-flying Milan are on the cusp of matching that feat thanks to the help of Kjaer and Tomori and perhaps even more than that as the resurgent powerhouse dream of a first Scudetto since 2011.

Kjaer and Tomori have formed an unlikely but rock-solid partnership at the heart of Milan's defence. Pioli's side have only conceded one goal to start the Serie A season. Since last May, Milan have the most clean sheets in the big five European leagues (seven in eight matches).

The pair's form has left captain Alessio Romagnoli sidelined and considering his future – not something you would have anticipated when Kjaer arrived following a brief spell at Atalanta, initially on loan in 2020.

Kjaer has come into his own in Milan, establishing himself as a key member on and off the pitch under Pioli, tallying 178 clearances in the league since January 2020 – a number only behind Torino's Bremer (219), Omar Colley of Sampdoria (214), Fiorentina star Nikola Milenkovic (205), ex-Viola centre-back German Pezzella (191) and Lazio's Francesco Acerbi (190) among defenders.

 

The 32-year-old Denmark international has also provided security in the air, with his 93 headed clearances the fourth most among defenders since January 2020, after Milenkovic (122), Bremer (119) and Colley (103).

"It happens a lot with defenders that they kind of find their own style later on. That has happened with Simon," former Denmark international Jesper Olsen told Stats Perform.

"You're playing at a top team and expected to do really well. We know your last game played doesn't count anymore, it's the next one. He just seems very settled."

Tomori, who completed a permanent switch from Champions League holders Chelsea in July after impressing on loan, scored the last time these two teams met – a 3-0 victory in Turin in May.

Milan have won two of their most recent three Serie A matches against Juventus, as many as in their previous 17 (D1 L14).

Borussia Dortmund appear to be more willing to allow Jadon Sancho to depart this off-season.

The England international has been courted by several Premier League clubs in the past.

He almost joined Manchester United 12 months ago in a drawn out transfer saga.

 

TOP STORY - SANCHO DEAL BACK ON FOR UNITED

The Mirror claims that Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho has agreed personal terms on a move to join Manchester United.

The 21-year-old winger came close to signing with the Red Devils 12 months ago but this time around Dortmund are more willing to part ways with him.

Sancho has reportedly settled on the details of the contract offer but United and Dortmund still need to agree on the transfer fee.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tottenham's search for a new manager has moved to Ajax boss Erik van Tag according to the Mirror. Spurs' move for Antonio Conte has collapsed.

- New Roma head coach Jose Mourinho is chasing a goalkeeper, with Tottenham's Hugo Lloris, Juventus' Wojciech Szczesny and Wolverhampton's Rui Patricio top of the list, reports La Gazetta dello Sport.

- Roma are also keen on Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka according to Corriere dello Sport.

- The Mirror also reports that England full-back Kieran Trippier has informed his Atletico Madrid teammates that he wants to join Manchester United this off-season.

- Marca reports that Barcelona plan to offer a new contract to youngster Ilaix Moriba following interest from several top clubs after his breakout season.

Milan emphatically enhanced their Champions League hopes at Juventus' expense after a thumping 3-0 win at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday. 

Rumoured Juve target Gianluigi Donnarumma enjoyed a quiet game after a controversial week in which Milan supporters reportedly demanded he missed the clash after contract negotiations had stalled, but the same could not be said for his Juve counterpart. 

Wojciech Szczesny's tepid punch allowed Brahim Diaz to open the scoring on the stroke of half-time, although the Poland international redeemed himself to some extent by keeping out Franck Kessie's second-half penalty. 

There was little he could do about Ante Rebic's stunning strike, however, and Fikayo Tomori's late header made certain Stefano Pioli's side moved up to third in the table. Juve, meanwhile, drop down to fifth with just three games remaining.

Giorgio Chiellini had failed to take a glorious chance to open the scoring just after the half-hour mark, the veteran defender heading wide at the back post from a corner with a flailing Donnarumma nowhere to be seen.

Milan then went ahead in stoppage time when Diaz superbly whipped into the top-right corner after Szczesny's weak clearance from Hakan Calhanoglu's free-kick had fallen kindly to him.

Szczesny made amends for his role in the opener, turning away Kessie's 58th-minute spot-kick after Diaz's shot had hit Chiellini's arm - the penalty given after referee Paolo Valeri had reviewed the incident on the pitchside monitor – but the reprieve did not trigger a Juve fightback.

Instead, Rebic, who had replaced the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 66th minute, put the game out of the home team's reach with a glorious long-range strike into Szczesny's top-left corner.

On-loan Chelsea defender Tomori powered home a header from Calhanoglu's cross with eight minutes remaining as Milan ended a run of nine straight away league defeats to Juventus in eye-catching style.

Gianluigi Buffon proved his worth to Juventus in their vital win at Napoli on Wednesday, but Andrea Pirlo will restore Wojciech Szczesny as his first-choice goalkeeper.

World Cup winner Buffon, now 43, is firmly behind Szczesny in the pecking order in Turin, yet he was given a rare opportunity for the huge midweek Serie A match.

The veteran, who returned to the club from Paris Saint-Germain in 2019, made three saves as strikes from team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala set the Bianconeri on their way to victory.

Only a 90th-minute Lorenzo Insigne penalty denied Buffon a clean sheet as Juve moved three points clear of their opponents, who sit in fifth - just outside the Champions League places.

But Buffon should not expect to reprise this starting role on a regular basis, despite Szczesny committing an error leading to a goal in the weekend draw with city rivals Torino.

"I had already spoken to the lad [Szczesny]," said Pirlo, who had suggested earlier in the week Szczesny would play.

"He was already tired when he was back from the national team because he had played three games in a row, so he needed some mental rest and to recover his energy.

"It was already in my mind to have Gigi play, but [Szczesny] remains the main goalkeeper of Juventus."

 

Even besides the mishap against Torino, Buffon's output since returning to Juve has been more than a match for the number one.

Among goalkeepers in Europe's 'top five' leagues to play 25 games or more in all competitions since the start of last season, Buffon's save rate of 80.2 per cent trails only Sevilla's Yassine Bounou.

None of these keepers have conceded fewer goals than Buffon (18), while again Bounou is the only man conceding fewer goals per game (0.7 for Buffon).

With 11 clean sheets in 26 outings, he ranks ninth for clean sheet percentage (42).

Meanwhile, discounting penalties and own goals, Buffon has conceded 14 times over the past two seasons despite having an expected goals on target (xGOT) conceded total of 17.1, meaning he has prevented 3.1 goals.

This season alone, among goalkeepers to play 10 times or more, Buffon again ranks second for save percentage, his 81.8 this time trailing Sergio Rico.

 

Across the past two campaigns, Szczesny has saved 72.7 per cent of shots he has faced, but has conceded on average 1.1 goals per game and collected a clean sheet in just 31 per cent of his appearances.

He has prevented 7.7 goals - with a 66.7 xGOT conceded versus 59 non-penalty goals - albeit having played 68 matches, 42 more than Buffon.

In 2020-21, Szczesny has conceded a goal per game and kept out 71.3 per cent of shots on his goal.

With Buffon set to again lose his place despite remaining at the forefront of the European game, it would support Gianluca Pagliuca's suggestion the Juve great should have retired rather than return to Turin to sit on the bench.

Pagliuca told Stats Perform News: "If I was him, I have already retired. I would have retired after PSG. It was a good idea to go to Paris because it's a big club and he was playing regularly.

"Buffon on the bench? Happy to play only in Coppa Italia? It's not great.

"Someone with his career, it's better to retire when you are 41 and you are still playing than having a couple of years on the bench. He is still a really good goalkeeper.

"The best thing was to retire after PSG, considering his career. Maybe he still wants to compete. However, we have to think he's been the best goalkeeper in the football history."

Andrea Pirlo warned his Juventus side they risk going the way of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich if they take SPAL lightly in Wednesday's Coppa Italia quarter-final tie.

SPAL knocked out Sassuolo in the last round and make the trip to the Allianz Stadium sitting fifth in Serie B as they seek a swift return to the top tier of Italian football.

Record 13-time Coppa winners Juve enter the game as strong favourites to progress to the semi-finals, where the winner of Tuesday's game between Inter and Milan would await.

However, in a month that has seen Madrid exit the Copa del Rey with defeat to third-tier Alcoyano and Bayern lose to second-tier Holstein Kiel in the DFB-Pokal, Pirlo is taking nothing for granted.

"There are a lot of possible risks because we are facing a Serie B team on paper. But if you look at the foreign cups, Bayern lost to a team from a lower division, as did Madrid," Pirlo told Juventus TV.

"We have to assume that it will be a difficult game. We need maximum concentration because we want to go through. They are a good team that are doing well in the league and cup.

"We of course have to be careful because the main objective is to pass through to the next round.

"They are a very good team that like to play football, play with three defenders and sometimes three forwards or half-strikers. It is a difficult team to face so we will have to be at our best to avoid losing."

Juve's Scudetto hopes took a major dent with defeat to Inter on January 17, but they have since responded with 2-0 wins over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana and Bologna in the league.

Pirlo now has near enough a fully-fit squad to choose from and believes that will be reflected on the results front.

"It means we can improve because we have great players back," he said. "I hope to finally have the whole squad available and we can then work on all the concepts, which we have not been able to do this season."

Rodrigo Bentancur will miss the cup tie but Matthijs de Ligt and Merih Demiral will return to the starting line-up after recovering from coronavirus and injury respectively.

"Bentancur will rest for sure because on Sunday he played the whole game with a hole in his foot," Pirlo said. "We had to put three stitches in - he made a big sacrifice and now he will need a few days of rest to absorb the bruise.

"Some players who played on Sunday will rest. De Ligt and Demiral will return and start from the beginning. Then for the rest we will have a competitive team.

Pirlo also confirmed Gianluigi Buffon will start against SPAL, with regular goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny being given a breather.

Szczesny has conceded 16 goals in 14 league matches this term for a save percentage of 68.63, which is below the 74.42 he managed last season and 75.61 in 2018-19.

He made three saves against both Napoli and Bologna to keep successive clean sheets, but Pirlo is after even more from the Poland international.

"He is giving us great confidence with his performances," the rookie head coach said. "We are more than satisfied with the displays he is putting in on the pitch.

"We know he can still improve because he's a world-class goalkeeper who plays for a great team. We are hoping that he can still do better."

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