Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

The Goalkeeper. Often an isolated figure on the field and undoubtedly a specialist position, so Serie A Weekly has drafted in a specialist writer to take a closer look. US journalist Danny Penza knows a thing or two about donning the gloves, and he gives us his opinion on some of the men doing the same in Italy’s top flight.

For the past decade, when you think of Italy’s top dog between the posts, you think of Gianluigi Buffon.

Nobody else has come close to taking away from taking Superman’s spot atop his throne. San Gigi has not only been an institution in Turin with Juventus, for ten years but also with the Azzurri, protecting Italy’s nets on a regular basis since 2000.

And in recent memory, it has been Buffon and everybody else, thus leaving Italian supporters wondering — probably biting their nails and shivering a bit — what a post-Gigi world would be like.

But that is not the case anymore.

While the Azzurri as a whole has started a new era under manager Cesare Prandelli, so has the country’s goalkeeping position. Fears of what life without Buffon would be like has now been replaced by optimism of what the future may bring.

And there are two extremely talented young keepers to thank for that.

Salvatore Sirigu and Emiliano Viviano have ushered in a new era of Italian goalkeepers, becoming the top choices of Prandelli not named Buffon in the national side. Twenty-four and 25 years of age, respectively, Sirigu and Viviano are now the two names that appear whenever Prandelli fills out his Italy squad list.

Sirigu, who established himself in the Palermo lineup last season, has played every minute this season for the Rosanero. He has not let defensive inconsistencies bother him whatsoever, leading all of Serie A in saves 122 while facing a league-high 166 shots.

And Viviano is not far Sirigu behind in most statistics. The Bologna keeper has been one of the driving forces for one of Serie A’s most surprising teams. He has started every game for the Rossoblu this season, posting a 1.23 goals against average and making 114 saves on 150 shots.

Sometimes, keepers are made to be better than they really are when looking at the numbers. But for both Sirigu and Viviano, they are proving that the expectations set for them weren’t too high. They are living up to the billing of being the names that Prandelli regularly calls up.

Not one, but two keepers in the mid-20s establishing themselves as the pair that will duel for the No. 1 jersey whenever San Gigi is injured or decides to retire from international football down the road?

Inexperience on the international stage aside, that is music to the ears of any Azzurri follower.

But Sirigu and Viviano are not the only Italian keepers having fine 2010-11 campaigns. Two veterans, Morgan De Sanctis and Christian Abbiati, have turned in equally impressive seasons despite being in the “Over 30″ club.

For Abbiati, his season has been especially impressive seeing as he’s only in the middle of the pack in terms of minutes played in Italy. He has recorded a shutout in exactly half of the games he has started (28) for Milan this season. He leads Serie A with a 0.61 goals against average, well ahead of the man in second place, Fernando Muslera of Lazio.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic might get all the plaudits for being Milan’s most valuable player, but if not for the play of Abbiati, who is now 33 years old, the Rossoneri might not be where they are.

That same comparison could be made for De Sanctis at Napoli.

While Edinson Cavani has been scoring like a mad man, the 34-year-old shot stopper has been posting shutouts in the same fashion, leading all of Serie A with 15 clean sheets this season. De Sanctis has posted a 0.90 GAA while starting every game. He has also made 78 saves while facing 105 shots on goal.

Both Abbiati and De Sanctis might not be Prandelli’s top choices to be reserves in the Italy squad, but if something were to happen to Sirigu or Viviano, there are now suitable stand-ins for the young men who are projected to replace Buffon.

With these four keepers playing at the high level, they are proving that Italy’s goalkeeper cupboard certainly isn’t bare. In fact, with the young keepers proving their worth and the vets showing they have something left in the tank, it’s considerably packed to the gills.

Prandelli has plenty of choices if faced with another ‘No Gigi’ situation. That is more than a perfectly acceptable problem to have for any coach to have.

Follow Danny on Twitter here

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