x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Juventus in safe hands with Buffon

Buffon was magnificent, his saves a full show-reel of the reflexes, the strength and the authority he has been giving his clubs and his national side for the past decade.

There is a Juventus without the samba. The team who maintained their 100 per cent record in Serie A did so without Diego and Felipe Melo, their two Brazilian summer recruits - plus compatriot Amauri started on the bench against Livorno on Saturday. Injuries and the principle of rotation had informed the choice of personnel by the coach Ciro Ferrara, although a short consultation with the local meteorological office would have warned any manager that Saturday in Turin was not likely to be the ideal night for twinkle-toed finesse.

Juve stayed joint top of the table - equal on points with Sampdoria - thanks to their Italians, and above all to their goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whose protection of the 2-0 advantage given them by Vicenzo Iaquinta and Claudio Marchisio's goals in the first half-hour suggested that Italy's No 1 is back to his vivid, athletic and confident best. Buffon was magnificent, his saves a full show-reel of the reflexes, the strength and the authority he has been giving his clubs and his national side for the past decade. Exhibit 1: the block he executed to keep out Francesco Tavano in the fifth minute, reacting late to an opportunity that came rather by accident to the Livorno player. Next up was clawing an Antonio Candreva effort clear from beneath his crossbar. Exhibits 3 and 4 followed one another in quick succession: a rapid, emergency advance from his line to confront, one-on-one, Cristiano Lucarelli. From the subsequent corner, his alert responses kept out Diniz's attempt. All that before the interval, too.

Buffon needed this strong beginning to the 2009-10 season. It has been a peculiar year for him overall. He missed a large chunk of last season injured, and saw Alex Manninger cope adequately for the most part in his absence as Juventus laid the foundations for a genuine assault on the league title. When Buffon returned to the side, he made one or two errors and, in the high-profile Champions League meeting with Chelsea he allowed a Didier Drogba free-kick to squirm over his goal-line, escaping embarrassment only because match officials had not seen what cameras easily revealed. Other moments of uncertainty made it a less-than-vintage campaign as the Juve bandwagon lost its course in the later months.

Before that, there had been the transfer speculation, the sumptuous offer from Manchester City for a goalkeeper accustomed to being mentioned alongside Iker Casillas, Peter Cech and Julio Cesar as the candidates for the safest hands in football. The City move did not happen, although Buffon has since confirmed it was a genuine offer. He did not always seem happy at Juve in the months afterwards and lost his cool, he later admitted, in the dressing-room during one frustrating afternoon against Lecce.

But against Livorno on Saturday, he looked the best in the world at his job once again. His second-half performance included excellent stops from Antonio Filippini, Tomas Danilevicius and Candreva. Afterwards Buffon talked of the "pleasure of playing again after eight months of problems. It was a hard time and so to be feeling physically good again gives me confidence". Criticism that he had lost his status last season had also hurt. "It help motivate me," he said. "I feel in good form and when the side can be consistent like this, we feel optimistic."

There is a long way to go, he added, and Inter's victory at Cagliari keeps the defending champions close behind Sampdoria and Juventus. But Buffon's side have one conspicuously superior statistic; they have conceded a single goal so far in the league. For that, their keeper can claim great credit. ihawkey@thenational.ae