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Gianluigi Buffon's struggles cast shadow over future at PSG

PARIS (AP) — When Paris Saint-Germain's owners signed Gianluigi Buffon last year in the hope of finally winning the Champions League, they expected him to deliver in big games. Not only did he fail make the saves they wanted in Europe's top competition, but the former Juventus goalkeeper has also been mediocre in the French league.

Now 41, Buffon has looked his age in recent weeks. Last month, his performance in the return leg of PSG's Champions League match against Manchester United was even embarrassing. He was powerless on Romelu Lukaku's opener, was at fault on United's second goal and made a series of poor choices as he restarted play.

And against Strasbourg last weekend in the French league, he had only a few saves to make, but did not pull them off as PSG dropped its first points at home and missed the chance to wrap the title with eight games to spare. Buffon did not move when Nuno Da Costa sent the ball beyond his reach to level the score and was left stranded by Anthony Goncalves' long-range shot in a 2-2 draw.

With PSG out of the Champions League, Buffon won't have any more opportunities to shine on the biggest stage this season. And it's not guaranteed he will get a lot more chances in the league — a competition in which he has been taking turns with France international Alphonse Areola — after conceding seven goals in eight starts in all competitions since January.

"It's not so good," Gilles Bourges, a former PSG goalkeeping coach, told Le Parisien newspaper. "It gives the feeling that he is less determined, less confident. As a result, he makes small technical mistakes, he is less lively and lacks accuracy in his choices. In these periods, experience gives an extra something, but it is not enough."

A World Cup champion with Italy in 2006, Buffon made 656 appearances for Juventus and 176 for Italy. He was expected to retire after winning a seventh straight Serie A title, but then joined PSG on a one-year contract. PSG's Qatari owners should now ask themselves whether it will be appropriate to activate the option for an extra year, especially since Areola looks ready to take over on a full time basis.

A homegrown player, the 26-year-old Areola has been solid throughout the season and was impressive in his France debut, making some spectacular saves in a 0-0 draw at Germany in the Nations League in September.

According to Bourges, the only reasonable choice if Buffon was to stay would be to establish a clear hierarchy between the two goalkeepers, with the Italian relegated to a No. 2 role. "I crossed paths with Alphonse this summer. He was satisfied with his experience this season, but he should now become the true No. 1," Bourges said. "He is capable and needs to play a complete season. The good understanding in a rotation system does not last forever."

PSG will also need to make decisions on whether to extend the contracts of another pair of veterans, Daniel Alves and Thiago Silva, or find world-class replacements on the transfer market. Not an easy task with the club still being investigated by UEFA for its finances in the 2017-18 season, when the French champions splashed 380 million euros (about $430 million) to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

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