By Greg Lea.
The first strike was contested, but Paulo Dybala would not be denied second time around. The Argentine played a key part in Juventus' 2-0 victory over Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico on Friday night the champions' fifth consecutive triumph and their seventh in their last nine Serie A outings provoking Santiago Gentiletti's own goal in the seventh minute before doubling his side's lead just after half an hour.
It was another superb performance from Dybala, who has made a fine start to his Juve career since joining the Bianconeri from Palermo for an initial €32m fee in the summer. Despite making only 10 starts, the 22-year-old has found the back of the net on seven occasions in the Italian top flight so far this term, with his all-round performances also impressing the club's supporters.
Max Allegri's men made a poor start to the domestic campaign, losing their first two matches to Udinese and Roma before dropping more points in 1-1 draws at home to Chievo and newly-promoted Frosinone.
Their disappointing form was a result of many different factors, including multiple injuries and a collective crisis of confidence. The main cause of the champions' downturn in fortunes, however, was the loss of three key players in the close-season, Arturo Vidal joining Bayern Munich, Andrea Pirlo moving to New York City and Carlos Tevez returning to boyhood club Boca Juniors.
Evergreen goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon may have been Juventus' captain for last term's domestic double, but in many ways it was Tevez who was the team's talisman. The former Manchester United and Manchester City man led from the front with his relentless pressing and harrying, with his work ethic proving infectious and inspiring his team-mates to follow suit. It was not just his willingness to sacrifice himself for his side that made him such a success; Tevez's class also shone through, with 27 goals netted in Serie A and the Champions League.
His departure was therefore a major blow, but Dybala has stepped into the void admirably. He was excellent throughout 2014/15, scoring 13 times and recording 10 assists for Palermo, but playing for a club as large as Juventus brings its own pressures that many players are unable to handle. The fact that the Argentina international Gerardo Martino handed him his Albiceleste debut in October's World Cup qualifier with Paraguay has made an instant impact is testament to both his character and his quality.
His goal in the comfortable victory over Lazio at the weekend was sensational, Dybala volleying the ball home from 25 yards after teeing himself up for the shot with a beautifully-cushioned touch off his knee. That strike came just six days after his winner against Milan and 25 minutes after he forced the opening goal at the Olimpico, which saw Gentiletti inadvertently deflect the ball past Federico Marchetti following Dybala's fierce drive across goal.
The 22-year-old is not just a converter but a creator too, with his superb dribbling, low centre of gravity and close control regularly causing problems for opposition defenders. He has provided four assists in Serie A, with no Juventus player creating more chances across all competitions than Dybala; of equal importance is the ex- Instituto forward's application and contribution off the ball, with Juventus fans already confident that the loss of Tevez will not be as keenly felt as first assumed.
"Paulo Dybala is getting praise and credit, but you need to remember thatÂ he is only 22 and overloading such a young player with responsibility is not good," Allegri warned last month. It is highly possible that the striker will suffer a dip in form at some point this season but, at present, it is difficult for Juventus fans not to get excited about the extremely talented prospect spearheading a title challenge that has been revived in recent weeks.
Paulo Dybala the Perfect Replacement for Tevez at Juventus
By Greg Lea.