Paulo Dybala back to his best and other things learned as Juventus hold serve in Serie A title race with 2-0 win over Udinese

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Paulo Dybala's brace included a superlative free-kick.

Juventus kept up their charge for a seventh straight Serie A title with a 2-0 win over Udinese that at least briefly puts them atop the league table.

Paulo Dybala scored two goals, including a sensational free-kick, as the Turin side built on their thrilling comeback in the Champions League in midweek to keep the pressure on Napoli in this intense title race.

Here are three talking points from Sunday’s win.

DYBALA IS BACK

Four goals in three games, all of them crucial – without that contribution, Juventus would be out of the Champions League and would have drawn both of their last two Serie A fixtures. Instead it’s produced an injury-time winner against Lazio, the goal that proved to be the winner against Spurs, and now the only goals in a 2-0 win to give Juventus a crucial result in the title race.

He had a dip in form earlier this season and was dropped from the starting XI on occasion, but at the moment, there’s just no stopping the Argentine.

Dybala is back to his best after a dip in form earlier this season.

Dybala is back to his best after a dip in form earlier this season.

JUVENTUS SHOWING RAZOR-SHARP FOCUS

At times this season Juventus’ desire seemed to have dipped compared to previous years – understandable given their run of six straight Serie A titles. Until last week, Napoli were looking like the favourites for this year’s championship, while disappointing results in Europe indicated that this season’s team wasn’t on par with last year’s juggernaut.

But they haven’t lost a game since November, and in recent weeks there has been a renewed steeliness to Massimiliano Allegri’s squad, with the last-gasp win over Lazio and the comeback against Tottenham the obvious examples. The title race is far from over, but Juventus are looking ominously good now.

Much like Dybala, Juventus have gotten over a dip in form to look back to their best.

Much like Dybala, Juventus have gotten over a dip in form to look back to their best.

HIGUAIN CONTINUES TO CONFOUND

There are days when Gonzalo Higuain looks like one of the best strikers in Europe, and others where it’s obvious why he gets criticism. Sometimes, he switches between the two within the same game, such as Juventus’ home game against Tottenham where he got a quick-fire brace but then missed a penalty and was anonymous in the second half.

Sunday’s performance was in a similar vein. He again missed a penalty, but his play to set up Dybala’s second goal was superb. It’s confounding how a player with his record and talent still hasn’t done enough to earn a more fearsome reputation that would be befitting of an elite player.

Higuain had a mixed day for Juventus, missing a penalty but getting an assist.

Higuain had a mixed day for Juventus, missing a penalty but getting an assist.

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Fiorentina pay tribute to Davide Astori with win while Juventus edge ahead in Serie A title race

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Fiorentina paid tribute to former captain Davide Astori.

Fiorentina paid emotional tributes to their captain Davide Astori before and during their 1-0 Serie A win over Benevento at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

The Florence club were playing their first game since Astori died suddenly in his sleep at the team hotel last week.

Fans unveiled banners in Astori’s honour and players warmed up in shirts bearing his name and number, while the match was halted in the 13th minute for a sustained round of applause.

Vitor Hugo headed the only goal of the game in the 25th minute and celebrated by hugging coach Stefano Pioli before raising a shirt picturing Astori to the crowd.

In the race for the title Juventus returned to first place – at least until Inter Milan host Napoli later on Sunday – thanks to their 2-0 home victory against Udinese.

Following their dramatic Wembley comeback against Tottenham in the Champions League, spirits were high and Paulo Dybala opened the scoring by fizzing a free-kick into the top corner in the 20th minute.

Gonzalo Higuain missed a 38th-minute penalty that had been won by Dybala but the latter cheered up his fellow Argentinian by sweeping in his assist for a second goal shortly after the break.

Juventus sealed a crucial win in the context of the Serie A title race.

Juventus sealed a crucial win in the context of the Serie A title race.

Lazio suffered a setback in their bid to gatecrash the top three despite Ciro Immobile pouncing in stoppage time to salvage a point from a 2-2 draw at Cagliari.

The Sardinians scored first as Leonardo Pavoletti latched on to the loose ball when Han Kwang-song headed against the crossbar.

Luca Ceppitelli, in trying to stop Lucas Leiva shooting, put through his own net to level the scores.

When Luiz Felipe impeded Pavoletti in the Lazio box midway through the second half the video assistant referee was called upon and after a review a penalty was awarded, with Nicolo Barella putting it away.

Cagliari were seconds away from a first win in four outings when Immobile bagged his 24th goal of the season by converting Felipe Anderson’s pass.

Marten de Roon’s late strike at Bologna gave Atalanta reason to believe they can still qualify for Europe as the Bergamo side won 1-0 to consolidate eighth place.

There was a surprise twist in the battle to avoid the drop as lowly Crotone thumped high-flying Sampdoria 4-1 with Marcello Trotta scoring twice.

The former Fulham striker powered the ball beyond Emiliano Viviano for his sixth-minute opener yet the Samp goalkeeper was very briefly celebrating when he denied Trotta from the spot in the 23rd minute.

However, Adrian Stoian doubled Crotone’s lead by following up the rebound and Trotta made it 3-0 with a tap-in not long before the interval.

Substitute Duvan Zapata gave the visitors to the Stadio Ezio Scida some hope in the 70th minute but Viviano rubber-stamped a poor day in the nets with an unfortunate own goal in the final minute.

Sassuolo and SPAL both remain in the relegation mire after contesting a 1-1 draw in Reggio Emilia.

It could have been worse for 18th-placed SPAL though as, after Khouma Babacar cancelled out Mirco Antenucci’s opener for the Ferraresi, Matteo Politano missed a penalty for Sassuolo.

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Juventus player ratings as Paulo Dybala gets a 9 and Gonzalo Higuain misses a penalty in 2-0 win

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Paulo Dybala led Juventus to a routine win over Udinese.

Paulo Dybala‘s double ensured there was no hangover from Juventus‘ thrilling midweek win over Spurs in the Champions League, as the reigning Serie A champions brushed aside Udinese 2-0 at home.

The Argentine scored a wonderful free-kick and added a second after half-time to put Juve atop the table ahead of Napoli’s trip to Inter Milan later on Sunday.

Here’s a look at how Juve’s players performed in the win.

STARTING XI

Wojciech Szczesny 6 – Standing in for the rested Gianluigi Buffon, Szczesny had little to do but showed enough to keep up the impression that he’s a capable back-up for the legendary Italian.

Mattia de Sciglio 6 – A largely solid performance from the right-back, but a few mistakes over the 90 minutes blotted his display.

Daniele Rugani 7 – The young defender’s education continued on Sunday, as he slotted in alongside captain Chiellini to man Juve’s back-line. It was another impressive display from the 23-year-old.

Giorgio Chiellini 8 – Another robust display from the centre-back, commanding his area and marshalling his defence with his usual ferocity. Ensured Juventus did not slip in this potentially tricky fixture.

Kwadwo Asamoah 8 – Even with the quality of first-choice left-back Alex Sandro, it’s not hard to see why the Asamoah gets so many opportunities. Another excellent display from the Ghanaian.

Sami Khedira 6 – Like a metronome in midfield, Khedira kept play ticking over for Juventus. The German did a solid job of protecting his defence as well, getting back to help the rearguard on more than one occasion.

Claudio Marchisio 7 – A typically classy performance from the Italian, with intelligent passing and controlled possession to help Juventus dominate midfield.

Stefano Sturaro 7 – Full of running throughout as he displayed his trademark engine in midfield. Wasted a good chance late on, but that was the only blemish on his display on Sunday.

Douglas Costa 8 –  A marauding display from the winger, whose vision and direct running tormented the Udinese defence.

Gonzalo Higuain 5 – A mixed day for Higuain, who passed up a glorious opportunity to get on the score sheet when he missed a penalty. His assist for Dybala’s second goal was sublime, however.

Paulo Dybala 9 – This is the sort of display that, had it come last season, it would have immediately been followed by comparisons to Lionel Messi. A superb free-kick and a composed finish brought him a well-earned brace.

SUBSTITUTES

Blaise Matuidi 6 – Came close to adding a third goal, just failing to get on the end of a cross late on, after coming on for Marchisio.

Mario Mandzukic 7 – A neat cameo from the Croatian, who nearly had an assist as he set up Dybala for what should have been the Argentinian’s hat-trick goal.

Rodridgo Bentancur 6 – Had little time to make an impact after coming on as a late substitute.

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