Juventus missed the chance to go top of Serie A after they slumped to a 4-2 defeat at Sassuolo.

The Bianconeri had claimed 10 points from an unbeaten start, but came unstuck at the Mapei Stadium as Sassuolo battled to a second league win.

After Juve midfielder Adrien Rabiot had fired an early shot wide, Sassuolo took the lead in the 12th minute when Armand Lauriente’s dipping shot squirmed past Juve keeper Wojciech Szczesny.

The visitors, though, hit back to level within 10 minutes.

Federico Chiesa sent over a deep cross from the left towards the far post where Weston McKennie was sliding in and Sassuolo defender Matias Vina got the final touch as the ball dropped into the net.

Manuel Locatelli drilled a low shot just wide before at the other end, Szczesny made amends for his early error with a fine one-handed save from Ruan Tressoldi’s downward header.

The Polish keeper, though, could do little to prevent Domenico Berardi from putting Sassuolo back in front five minutes before half-time.

Matheus Henrique rolled the ball across the edge of the penalty area and Berardi curled a fine left-foot strike into the corner to mark his 300th Serie A appearance with a fine goal.

There were penalty appeals from the visitors when Federico Gatti’s cross struck Ruan Tressoldi on the arm, but the referee’s decision not to award a spot-kick was backed up following a VAR review.

Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri made two changes for the start of the second half as Nicolo Fagioli and Samuel Iling-Junior replaced Fabio Miretti and Filip Kostic.

England Under-21 international Iling-Junior looked to inject fresh life into the Juve attack, darting down the left before a deep cross dropped just past the far post.

Sassuolo remained a threat on the counter, and Berardi slid Lauriente into the penalty area, but his wild shot flew over.

At the other end, Dusan Vlahovic scuffed just wide of the far post before Juve eventually equalised again with 12 minutes left.

Iling-Junior flicked down a deep cross at the back post and Fagioli cushioned it into the path of Chiesa, whose deflected strike flew in.

However, Sassuolo were soon back in front in the 82nd minute. Lauriente’s fierce drive was punched out by Szczesny, and Andrea Pinamonti nodded in the rebound.

Sassuolo keeper Alessio Cragno kept out Chiesa’s angled shot at the near post before substitute Gregoire Defrel almost scored another for the hosts on the break when his effort cannoned back off the crossbar.

The fourth goal did arrive in bizarre fashion during stoppage time when Gatti, under pressure from Henrique, knocked the ball back into an empty net after receiving a quick free-kick from Szczesny, who was left stranded out near the corner flag.

Massimiliano Allegri confirmed Paul Pogba is "not ready to play the whole game" when Juventus travel to Sassuolo in Serie A on Sunday.

Pogba has endured a torrid time since re-joining the Bianconeri from Manchester United last year due to a succession of injury setbacks, while he also missed the World Cup in Qatar.

A five-minute cameo in the midweek Europa League victory over Sporting CP represented only his third appearance of the campaign – all of which have come as a substitute.

Allegri feels Juve's clash with Sassuolo is too soon for Pogba to be thrown in from the start, but the head coach is confident the 30-year-old can still significantly impact the remainder of their campaign.

"Pogba is training well. Yesterday, he did 20 minutes of good training with the ball. Today, we see how he is," Allegri told reporters.

"At the moment, he is not ready to play the whole game, but he can only improve, and I think he will be able to show us his quality – if not for the whole game, for the minutes in which he will play from here to the end of the championship."

Allegri also confirmed Wojciech Szczesny will be rested for the trip to Mapei Stadium.

The Poland international was substituted during the first half of the win over Sporting after suffering chest pains, though he was subsequently checked and given the all-clear by the medical team.

Mattia Perin, who produced an impressive display from the bench, is likely to deputise.

"Today, I will talk to [Szczesny]," Allegri added. "If he is serene and calm, he can come with us and stay on the bench, so at least he will have a day of recovery and rest.

"Perin is in excellent condition and has become an important goalkeeper. Compared to when he arrived at Juventus, he has made progress and important improvements.

"He is one of the best goalkeepers there are for reliability and presence in the game."

Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was left "scared" after leaving the first leg of his side's Europa League quarter-final against Sporting CP with chest pain.

The Poland international left the field in tears before the conclusion of the first half, with Mattia Perin introduced in his place and playing the remainder of the 1-0 victory at Allianz Stadium.

Szczesny was checked by the medical team and given the all clear shortly after the resumption of the second half, though he admitted he was concerned by the sequence of events.

"I am fine, I was a little anxious, but we did all the tests and everything is fine," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"I was scared, it had never happened to me before, I was struggling to breathe and it really worried me."

Perin's heroics in added time with a double save to deny Pote and Hector Bellerin secured victory for Juventus, with Szczesny returning to form by joking about the situation and praising his team-mate.

"The truth is, I saw Mattia in great shape in training, I felt tired and knew he would have a great double save at the 94th [minute]," he added.

"Nah, they fired it straight at him! I congratulated him, he is also a guy with a heart of gold, we get along well. It's a shame Carlo [Pinsoglio] didn't come on, he would've had a hat-trick of great saves today."

Speaking shortly after, Perin hailed the team's display and made it clear there was still plenty of work to be done.

"I think the team as a whole has been exceptional not to fall into a victim mentality or false alibis, instead we used that negative energy and made it positive, proving we are real men," he said.

"It is only half-time in the quarter-final, there are another 90 minutes to go and we can be happy with this victory, but it's only half-done."

Former Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang only returned to London in September to join Chelsea, but his time at Stamford Bridge could soon be up.

The Gabon international has scored three goals in 16 games but has only started four times in the Premier League under Blues boss Graham Potter.

Chelsea have been active in the January transfer window, already bringing in Joao Felix, Andrey Santos, Benoit Badiashile and David Datro Fofana.

TOP STORY – AUBA COULD EXIT CHELSEA FOR BARCELONA RETURN

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is eager to leave Chelsea and wants to return to Barcelona, reports Spanish newspaper Sport.

Aubameyang reportedly had interest from Atletico Madrid too, but FIFA rules state a player can only be registered for a maximum of three clubs in a season, but only play for two.

Any move for the Gabon international, who played for the Blaugrana earlier this season, could hinge on Atletico's interest in Barca's Memphis Depay

ROUND-UP

Atletico Madrid are weighing up a move for Leicester City's Turkish defender Caglar Soyuncu, reports Italian journalist Matteo Moretto. Wolves are pushing to sign Brazilian centre-back Felipe from the Spanish club, according to the Daily Mail.

– Southampton full-back Kyle Walker-Peters has interest from Manchester United and Chelsea, reports Talksport.

– The Sun reports Manchester United are also interested in World Cup stars Goncalo Ramos and Mohammed Kudus from Benfica and Ajax respectively.

– Foot Mercato reports Fiorentina's Moroccan midfielder Sofyan Amrabat would prefer to join Atletico Madrid instead of Liverpool or Tottenham. Fiorentina appear set to sell him for more than €50million after impressing at the World Cup.

– The Daily Mail says Marseille could receive a bid from Aston Villa for ex-Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi. New Villa boss Unai Emery worked with Guendouzi at Emirates Stadium.

– Leeds United have agreed a deal that could be worth up to £35.5million (€40m) to sign Hoffenheim forward Georginio Rutter, claims Sky in Germany.

Didier Deschamps warned France must not underestimate Poland when they meet in the World Cup round of 16 on Sunday.

Les Bleus have won all five last-16 matches since the stage was introduced to the tournament back in 1986.

The holders are strong favourites to knock the Eagles out at Al Thumama Stadium this weekend in what will be the underdogs' first knockout World Cup knockout game for 36 years.

France are unbeaten in their past seven meetings with Poland, but Deschamps says there can be no complacency from his side in Doha.

"It's not a team we're used to meeting," he told FFF TV. "They have experienced players. Obviously, if there is one name to stand out, it's [Robert] Lewandowski, he's one of the best strikers in the world.

"But it's not just him, it's a team that has good organisation, a good athletic presence. We have three observers here who are following them closely, we will have all the details. Don't underestimate this team."

Deschamps rung the changes for France's final Group D match on Wednesday, which they surprisingly lost 1-0 to Tunisia.

Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Hugo Lloris, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann were among the players who dropped to the bench for that loss.

Poland will need to find a way of containing Mbappe, the joint-leading scorer in the tournament with three goals, while Giroud is one shy of becoming his country's all-time leading goalscorer as he currently stands level with Thierry Henry on 51.

The Eagles were beaten 2-0 by Argentina in their last Group C game on Wednesday but took second place.

Poland have faced the reigning champions twice in World Cup matches, beating Brazil 1-0 in 1974 and holding Germany to a goalless draw four years later.

A quarter-final showdown with England or Senegal will be the reward for whoever comes out on top.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

France - Antoine Griezmann

Griezmann continues to deliver for France time and time again. No player has created more chances than the 11 he has produced for Les Blues in this tournament.

The Atletico Madrid forward is the only player to create at least 10 chances in both this World Cup and Russia 2018 for France. He has already surpassed his total of 10 four years ago.

Poland - Wojciech Szczesny

Goalkeeper Szczesny has played a key role for Poland in Qatar, achieving a save percentage of 90. He had kept out each of his first 16 shots on target faced in the tournament prior to Alexis Mac Allister's goal for Argentina.

Szczesny saved a Lionel Messi penalty in midweek, ensuring he has stopped a spot-kick in each of his past two World Cup games. He could be in for a busy game, given France's quality going forward.

PREDICTION

While there have been shock results aplenty in this tournament, France will not be expected to slip up when they attempt to seal a place in the last eight.

Stats Perform's AI model gives the defending champions a 74.8 per cent chance of going through, with Poland at only 8.1 per cent to produce an upset.

Wojciech Szczesny made a bet with Lionel Messi during Poland's World Cup clash against Argentina that the referee would not award a penalty, the goalkeeper has revealed.

The Juventus stopper denied Messi from the spot in the first half of Poland's 2-0 defeat in Group C following a controversial decision, where Danny Makkelie pointed to the spot after watching the incident following VAR advice.

Szczesny was among those convinced that it should not have been a penalty, even going as far as to make a bet with Messi during the delay of the game – though he has no intention of paying up.

"We spoke before the penalty. I told him I can bet him €100 that he [the referee] wasn't going to give it. So, I've lost a bet against Messi," he said after the match.

"I don't know if that's allowed at the World Cup and I'm probably going to get banned for it but I don't care right now. And I'm not going to pay him either! He doesn't care about €100, come on."

Szczesny's denial of Messi from the spot saw the Polish stopper become only the third goalkeeper to save two penalties at a single World Cup tournament, excluding shoot-outs, having kept out Saudi Arabia's Salem Al Dawsari in the previous round of fixtures.

His celebrations were muted, however, due to the tight contest in Group C to advance to the knockout stage – with Poland only advancing ahead of Mexico on goal difference.

"Yeah it was nice, I didn't know at the time it was going to help us get through so I tried not to celebrate," he added.

"But I've had some bad luck at the big tournaments so far, the World Cup four years ago was awful for me and I owed this much to the team and in the last two games I managed to help them a little bit."

Poland will face defending champions France at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday in the nation's first appearance in the knockout stage since 1986.

Robert Lewandowski ended his wait for a first World Cup goal as Poland took a significant step towards reaching the knockout stage for the first time in 36 years by beating Saudi Arabia 2-0 on Saturday.

Talisman Lewandowski's penalty failure against Mexico had denied Poland an opening win, but he and they made amends at Education City Stadium, toppling Argentina's conquerors to blow Group C wide open.

Although Saudi Arabia were largely more impressive than in their smash-and-grab defeat of Argentina, they again fell behind and this time could not recover – the latest episode of spot-kick drama making a hero of Wojciech Szczesny after he denied Salem Al Dawsari.

Either side of that save, Lewandowski assisted the opening goal for Piotr Zielinski and belatedly netted a breakthrough strike to make sure of a win that moves Poland to four points ahead of themselves taking on Lionel Messi and Co.

Matty Cash raced onto an incisive pass six minutes before the break and squared to Lewandowski, whose first touch took him away from goal before he cut the ball back for Zielinski's clinical finish.

The response might have been swift as a VAR review granted Saleh Al Shehri a soft penalty following contact from Krystian Bielik, but Szczesny sensationally repelled Al Dawsari's spot-kick and then – even more spectacularly – Mohammed Al Burayk's follow-up.

Szczesny had to come to Poland's rescue again 10 minutes after the restart, blocking with his legs from Al Dawsari, and Feras Al Brikan and Mohammed Kanno each blazed wildly off target.

Poland squandered chances to put the game to bed as first Arkadiusz Milik and then Lewandowski worked the frame of the goal, but the Barcelona man eventually got his goal after pinching possession from Abdulelah Al Malki and finishing calmly.

What does it mean? Poland take pole position

Even in victory, Czeslaw Michniewicz's men were not especially impressive, although Lewandowski would have felt the weight of the world lift off his shoulders with a first goal in his fifth finals match.

Vitally, Poland also have a star performer at the other end of the pitch. Their strong position in this group is chiefly down to their back-to-back clean sheets, now having kept three in a row stretching back to 2018 – matching their best such sequence.

Poland penalty heroics

Poland have now faced five penalties at World Cups, yet three of them have been saved. Szczesny's stop sees him join Jan Tomaszewski, who kept out two at the 1970 tournament.

The save from Al Burayk on the rebound was truly remarkable, while Szczesny had also early made a sharp stop from Kanno and would later frustrate Al Dawsari again.

Tempers boil over

Played in front of a raucous – primarily Saudi – crowd, a kind observer might call this encounter "competitive". Players from both sides thundered into challenges, occasionally with both arms and legs.

In the opening 30 minutes, the sides shared more yellow cards (four) than shots (three). By half-time, there had been five bookings – the most cards at that stage of a World Cup game since the famously feisty 2010 final.

It seemed inevitable there would be a red card eventually, but it never came.

What's next?

Poland must still play their toughest fixture on paper, taking on an Argentina side who will need to win. Saudi Arabia remain in contention ahead of facing Mexico at the same time on Wednesday.

Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is hoping he can help star striker Robert Lewandowski achieve his ambitions on the international stage.

Lewandowski will spearhead the Polish challenge at the World Cup in Qatar, starting with Tuesday's Group C encounter with Mexico.

The Barcelona striker has enjoyed a glittering club career, most notably at Bayern Munich with whom he won the Champions League in 2020, but has found success harder to come by with the national team. Lewandowski is Poland's record goalscorer with 76 in 134 appearances – including nine in their qualifying campaign – but has never scored at a World Cup.

Juventus goalkeeper Szczesny said: "I think it's important for him, he is very motivated.

"No-one doubts that Robert is one of the best players in the world and he would definitely like to see his ambitions come true – not only at his club but also with the national team. We all have the same ambition, not just him."

Szczesny, 32, and Lewandowski, 34, are most likely playing their final World Cup and the former Arsenal man is hoping to enjoy his "last dance".

He added: "I do hope we catch a good rhythm and the music will lead us on. This is definitely my last World Cup, and for some of the other players probably, so it would be great to have something to remember as a success."

He is expecting a tight opener against Tata Martino's men, however.

"They are at a similar level to us and also have some wonderful players," he said.

"We are well prepped, we have analysed them well, but we will need to bring the theory to the pitch. We could win or also lose so it will be an interesting game."

Mexico endured an unconvincing qualifying phase and their form has not improved in recent months with just four wins from their last 11 games.

Expectations are low back home, but Martino insisted that was in contrast to strong belief within the squad.

The former Barcelona coach said: "We always try – regardless of what happens – to be aligned with our whole country.

"We reached the World Cup and we will try to be strong, from what we can control of course. This national team is very strong internally. I don’t know if what happens outside makes us stronger, but what happens internally certainly does."

David de Gea is not a new problem for Manchester United. Of course, his backers – and that appears to include many people at the club – will always point to his shot-stopping ability, which has clearly been a strength over the course of his career in England.

We can't forget that legendary performance against Arsenal in a 3-1 away win for United in the 2017-18 season, when De Gea equalled a Premier League record by making 14 saves.

But if that kind of goalkeeper becomes less reliable at arguably the one thing they're good at, questions have to be asked. De Gea was, of course, culpable in United's 4-0 humiliation by Brentford on Saturday.

He let Josh Dasilva's tame long-range effort sneak into the bottom-right corner, and that opened the floodgates on what was one of United's worst days in Premier League history.

But that wasn't all. His needless pass to Christian Eriksen when the Dane was under pressure brought the second goal and further highlighted something De Gea's detractors have started to mention frequently in the past few years: he's not good enough with the ball to be relied upon in a team that wants to build from the back.

That's the style of play Erik ten Hag wants to impose, yet De Gea appears to be far from the ideal candidate. Granted, the need to make saves will always be important for a goalkeeper, and the Spaniard's record of 2.8 goals prevented last season was second only to Jose Sa (8.5) in the Premier League.

But goalkeepers have become more and more important in the implementation of possession-based football over the past decade, and the longer you have the ball, the fewer opportunities the opponent has to score – for example, the three teams with the greatest shares of possession last term also faced the fewest shots.

 

So, if De Gea – who last season only completed 69 per cent of his passes – is not suitable, which goalkeepers are? Stats Perform takes a look at the Opta data of the more realistic potential targets...

KEYLOR NAVAS

If United were able to sign Navas, there's lots to suggest it would be a very shrewd acquisition.

Although the Costa Rican is 35, stylistically the Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper does appear to be a good fit for a team that wants to build from the back.

Over the past three seasons, Navas' 89.9 per cent pass completion rate last term is the highest by any goalkeeper (minimum 1,000 minutes played) in a single campaign across the top five leagues. He posted that figure as he and Gianluigi Donnarumma tussled for the starting role.

The season before he found a team-mate with 85.7 per cent of his passes, while in both campaigns he showed he was dependable when facing shots, recording 80.4 and 76.9 save percentages respectively – the former was the best such record of any keeper (min. 1,000 minutes played) over the past three campaigns.

When you consider PSG are seemingly willing to sell, with a move to Napoli apparently in the works, this could be a wonderful opportunity for United.

 

MARC-ANDRE TER STEGEN

This might seem a slightly unrealistic option initially, but Ter Stegen certainly shouldn't be seen as unattainable.

While Ter Stegen has rarely been suggested as a likely option for Barcelona to raise funds, he does still retain reasonable value and his sale would ease salary limit concerns – let's not forget, the Frenkie de Jong saga may be murky, but the Blaugrana need money.

As for his suitability to Ten Hag's brand of football, Ter Stegen's essentially been playing that way throughout his time at Barcelona. In each of the past three seasons, he has recorded a pass completion percentage of over 85 per cent – no other goalkeeper across the big five leagues can match that.

 

The concern, however, is his shot-stopping capabilities. In the three seasons mentioned he has, Opta data says, conceded more goals than the average goalkeeper would have expected to based on the quality of chances faced, and his save percentage figures for the three campaigns (68.8, 69 and 70.4) aren't much better than the average for the keepers in question (67.4 per cent).

WOJCIECH SZCZESNY

Poland international Szczesny may not be remembered especially fondly in the Premier League as he failed to live up to early promise at Arsenal.

But in Serie A he's carved out a fine career for himself. First, he kept Alisson out of the Roma team, and then he went on to become Juventus' chosen one to replace Gianluigi Buffon.

He isn't perfect, but again he is a goalkeeper with decent passing stats. His accuracy (79.4 per cent) last season was, admittedly, his worst record out of the past three campaigns, but in 2020-21 he was at 89.1.

 

Szczesny's save percentages over the period in question range from 68 to 74.4, which are reasonable without being spectacular, though he prevented 5.1 goals in 2019-20 and 2.3 last term. Both are fine records.

ILLAN MESLIER

Obviously, a goalkeeper's statistics are very often a reflection of the team they play in and the players around them. Just because a keeper has an excellent passing accuracy in one side doesn't mean they will in another, or vice versa.

Meslier is a keeper United are said to have been long-term admirers of, and in the data search that identified Navas, Szczesny and Ter Stegen as suitable, the Frenchman is one of precious few under the age of 23 who could fit the bill long term.

The 22-year-old hasn't played behind an especially effective defence since coming into the Premier League with Leeds United, but in the 2020-21 season he recorded a 72.6 save percentage and a reasonable passing accuracy of 77.1 per cent.

 

Granted, both were significantly poorer in 2021-22 and he endured a disappointing season individually – letting in 15.8 goals more than expected, the fifth-worst in Europe's top league – that will have raised some doubts, but he has shown potential in a Leeds team that is known for being chaotic.

He'd be a gamble, but at this point it could be argued United need as much change as possible.

Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is hoping that summer arrivals Paul Pogba and Angel Di Maria will have a beneficial impact on the squad's younger players.

Pogba and Di Maria both arrived on free transfers after their contracts ran out at Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain respectively.

France international Pogba is returning to the club where he previously played between 2012 and 2016, winning Serie A titles in all four of his seasons with the Turin outfit.

In 2016, he became the world's most expensive player after United paid a fee of £89million (€105m) to bring him to Manchester, but he is now back with the Italian side after a disappointing six-year spell in England.

Di Maria also had an unsuccessful period with United before signing for PSG, where he spent seven years until making the move to the Bianconeri earlier this month.

Speaking to Sky Sport on the new arrivals' potential influence, Szczesny said: "Two highly experienced players have joined us and many young players can only learn from them.

"In addition to this, they have an incredible quality and their contribution on the pitch will be important. I really hope they can give us a hand."

The Poland international was speaking from Juventus' pre-season training camp in the United States off the back of a 2-0 friendly win over Chivas Guadalajara.

Szczesny's side will take on Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid next as they prepare for the new campaign, where they will look to win their first Serie A title since the 2019-20 season.

The 32-year-old has been enthused by his team's pre-season so far, adding: "I'm having a lot of fun, we have been missing this experience in the last two-three years due to the pandemic.

"It's a great time to reunite with the group, work hard and have fun together.

"It will be a friendly match against Barcelona but it is always exciting to play against the best in the world.

"We have already played the first friendly in Las Vegas, now we have two games against Barcelona and Real Madrid and at this point it is nice to compete against the best teams."

Wojciech Szczesny has warned Juventus against playing with arrogance, despite their 2-0 win over Cagliari on Tuesday.

Moise Kean and Federico Bernardeschi were on target as Massimiliano Allegri's side closed the gap on the top four in Serie A to four points.

Kean put the hosts ahead in the 40th minute after they enjoyed 67.9 per cent of possession during the first half at the Allianz Stadium.

That figure slipped slightly to 59.3 per cent after the break as the Bianconeri allowed Cagliari a little more of the ball, though that seemed to provide Juve with more space in the final third as their shot count of 10 in the second period was double their first-half tally.

 

But before getting a second goal, Juve never looked truly comfortable. They dropped two points in similar fashion at Venezia 10 days earlier and were almost punished again as Cagliari saw two brilliant chances go begging – Dalbert narrowly failed to convert a cross, before Szczesny tipped over Joao Pedro's header.

Bernardeschi eventually secured a fifth win in six games with seven minutes remaining, but despite that and their greater shot frequency, Szczesny was left frustrated by what he perceived as negativity and a lack of intensity from Juve.

"We worked hard, but I think there's a lot we need to improve still – both in defence and up front," he told DAZN.

"Sometimes at 1-0, we relax and sit a bit too deep, but that's not good in the long run. We play arrogantly in those situations and I don't like it.

"It happened many times, including in Venezia when we conceded. We sit too deep in the second half. We can't keep lowering the level of intensity for 10 to 15 minutes every time. 

"It went alright today, but we dropped two points against Venezia, so we can't keep doing that."

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."

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