A precipitous descent from the godly heights of September was completed before kick-off on Saturday night, coach Massimiliano Allegri’s decision to drop the dented ‘La Joya’ – the Jewel – to the substitute’s bench for Serie A’s summit fixture against Internazionale met with little surprise by the Juventus faithful. That is what two strikes in 15 matches in all competitions will do to even a player of undisputed gifts.
The Argentina forward was, belatedly, thrown on with 15 minutes left of a goalless draw in which the perennial champions did everything but score. Diatribes remain about an inability to come up with the defining play true greats provide, only a negligible impact being registered during his fleeting moments on the pitch as yet another marquee fixture passed the young forward by.
This comedown came in the latest chapter of a rivalry defined by luminaries such as Christian Vieri, Zinedine Zidane, Alessandro Del Piero, Pavel Nedved and Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the last 20 years. Figures whose legend extends far beyond Italy’s borders and which Dybala looked poised to join after first dismantling Barcelona in last term’s Champions League quarter-finals, before rocketing in an exquisite collection of 12 goals in his opening eight club fixtures in 2017/18.
Yet that enlivening presence has disappeared amid a maelstrom of rumours related to break-ups with both his long term girlfriend and agent.
At 24-years old, it is now imperative a sense of individual responsibility exemplified by the iconic aforementioned players becomes as dominant in his rarefied game. He is no longer a doe-eyed prospect.
Dybala’s campaign is split into two distinct spells. He was unstoppable until September 23’s destruction of Turin neighbours Torino, his dismantling of Sassuolo and impish dribble out of the corner under intense pressure at Genoa the highlights.
But since then, two league efforts have come a month at a time.
He was also scoreless in the group stages of the Champions League, the player who defined the previous quarters against Barca doing precious little in the next edition.
Before September’s high-water mark, Dybala’s goals were coming every 53.8 minutes. Now it’s every 572.5 minutes – a depth only plumbed by the likes of Amauri.
Maddeningly, his ability has still sporadically shone through. A driving run and perfect pass teed up countryman Gonzalo Higuain for the only goal in the pressure clash at Napoli earlier this month, while an injury-time consolation at Sampdoria lashed into the bottom corner spoke volumes about the power and unnerving accuracy within his arsenal.
Dybala is still a star on the ascent. Runs of form earlier this year and from December 2015-May 2016 make him an asset coveted from Madrid to Manchester.
Such standing saw the prestigious Italian edition of Vanity Fair release a large profile last week, a question about the Ballon d’Or ambitions formed at a young age being met with: “We’d sit around the fire in the summer and I told my friends that [winning the Ballon d’Or] is what I wanted.”
Awkwardly timed, when placed with his current displays and downgrading of status.
The onus is now on the Jewel to prove he can consistently shine like no other.
The reigning champions will hope to follow up last week’s victory at second-placed Napoli by downing Inter to reclaim top spot.
Here, Press Association Sport identifies five talking points before the clash at Allianz Stadium.
On Sunday, Inter hammered Chievo 5-0 to occupy first place at the end of a round of fixtures for the first time since January 2016.
Under new head coach Luciano Spalletti they are still unbeaten in the league, despite twice rescuing nervy draws against Bologna and Torino. Saturday’s away game is the biggest test of their resolve yet – survive the trip to Turin and they really are title contenders.
Old Lady rejuvenated
Following six Scudetto wins on the spin the wheels appeared to be coming off for Juve as defeats to Lazio and Sampdoria allowed Inter and Napoli to take control.
Results in the Champions League were not great either, but the Bianconeri are through. Massimiliano Allegri has now addressed several failings and Juve beat Chievo 3-0 before keeping another clean sheet as they clinched a vital victory at Napoli last week.
Giving Inter the same treatment would confirm their re-entry to the title race.
Icardi in fine form
While Juve have spread the goals around the team this term, with Paulo Dybala top-scoring with 12, Inter are being propelled by their own Argentinian hitman, Mauro Icardi.
The captain bagged braces against Atalanta and Cagliari before making it five goals from four games with an effort against Chievo.
Icardi loves scoring against Juve, too, notching against them at San Siro last season and in both meetings during the 2014-15 campaign.
Big test for Szczesny
Bianconeri boss Allegri expects his veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, 39, to miss the Derby d’Italia following his absence from the midweek win at Olympiacos due to a calf strain.
Former Arsenal stopper Wojciech Szczesny was brought to Turin as Buffon’s long-term successor but has been inconsistent when called to deputise for the Italian great.
He shipped three goals in the loss at Samp and conceded against minnows SPAL and Benevento, too. The Pole will hope to pass this audition.
Napoli lying in wait
A draw at Allianz Stadium would not only frustrate the mutual ambitions of Juve and Inter but it would open the door to Napoli, who are looking for a confidence boost after losing to the Bianconeri and then Feyenoord in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Should the spoils be shared in Turin, Maurizio Sarri’s men can take advantage and go top by beating Fiorentina on Sunday.
Provided by Press Association Sport
Benevento goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli scored with a diving header five minutes into injury time to seal his side’s first Serie A point in a 2-2 draw with AC Milan on Sunday.
Brignoli launched himself at a Danilo Cataldi free-kick and steered the ball past his Milan counterpart Gianluigi Donnarumma to spark wild scenes of celebration at the Stadio Ciro Vigorito.
Benevento had gone into the game on a record-breaking run of 14 straight defeats on their Serie A debut, and looked set to be heading for another when Nikola Kalinic put the visitors in front.
But Brignoli’s decision to move forward in the final seconds paid off as he became the first goalkeeper to score in the Italian top flight since Massimo Taibi for Reggina in 2001.
Shell-shocked Milan had gone ahead through Giacomo Bonaventura in the 38th minute only for George Puscas to equalise for the hosts five minutes into the second half.
Kalinic swiftly headed the visitors back in front but Milan’s hopes were hit when Alessio Romagnoli was sent off for a second bookable offence with 15 minutes remaining.
Brignoli’s intervention was another blow for Milan, who had sacked coach Vincenzo Montella last week and replaced him with Gennaro Gattuso.