Cristiano Ronaldo watched on from the stands as Paulo Dybala hit a hat-trick in Juventus’ 3-0 win against 10-man Young Boys in the Champions League.
In the absence of the banned Portugal superstar, Dybala delightfully volleyed home a trademark searching long ball from Italy centre-back Leonardo Bonucci’s to open the scoring in searing fashion in the fifth minute.
The lead was then doubled when the Argentina forward followed in a spilled low shot from France workhorse Blaise Matuidi past the half-hour mark. A first treble at Allianz Stadium from him was then completed with a tap-in from Colombia winger Juan Cuadrado’s centre after a smart move.
Swiss Super League champions Young Boys, predictably, offered little further resistance as Juve eased to two wins from two games in Group H. Their night was made even harder when Guinea centre-back Mohamed Ali Camara picked up two yellow cards in three minutes to be dismissed near the death – the last for a flailing arm in Dybala’s face.
Wojciech Szczesny – 6: Quiet night for the Poland goalkeeper. Faced just one shot on target.
Andrea Barzagli – 6: The veteran coasted through the evening as part of the back three of old.
Leonardo Bonucci – 7: This was the Bonucci from his first spell in Turin. Consummately cut out any threat and produced an assist of rare quality for Dybala’s opener. Missed a second-half sitter with his head.
Mehdi Benatia – 7: Was allowed to charge out and try to break through the lines. Positive display. Led way with two tackles.
Juan Cuadrado – 6: Inconsistent as ever. Came up with the assist for Dybala’s last strike.
Miralem Pjanic – 6: Did the simple things well, without really shining. Easy as you like, for the matchwinner last time out against Valencia. Pumped in a leading five crosses.
Blaise Matuidi – 7: Smashed in a shot to allow Dybala to double up. Came off at half-time, however.
Alex Sandro – 7: A steady presence in Young Boys’ half of the pitch. Only one accurate cross from three attempts will disappoint.
Federico Bernardeschi – 6: Never burst into flames in the hole. One darting run in second half nearly produced an electric goal.
Paulo Dybala – 8: This could be the moment when Dybala’s 2018/19 truly begins. Blossomed in absence of Ronaldo, with two predatory strikes following an eye-catching opener. Had previously scored once in his last 17 UCL matches.
Mario Mandzukic – 6: Very much the foil for Dybala. Had no attempts on goal before being substituted on 77 minutes.
Emre Can – 6: Kept things tidy during the second half.
Sami Khedira – 6: The Massimiliano Allegri-favourite ensured Young Boys would not come back into proceedings.
Moises Kean – N/A: Correct offside flag denied Italy youth striker a first Champions League goal.
Juventus won their crunch clash against Napoli, beating last season’s runners-up 3-1 at home thanks to two goals from Mario Mandzukic and one from Leonardo Bonucci, with all three set up by Cristiano Ronaldo.
The win extends Juve’s lead at the top of Serie A to six points, a decisive blow in the title race even this early in the season.
Here’s a look at how the players rated.
Wojciech Szczesny 7 – Made some crucial saves, including one when his defence had left him completely exposed, but his one-on-one stop denied Jose Callejon an equalising goal.
Joao Cancelo 7 – The Portuguese right-back was solid both in defence and attack, continuing his fine start to his Juventus career.
Leonardo Bonucci 6 – Was entirely at fault for Napoli’s goal, playing a poor pass out from the back. Scored a clinching third goal, but looked shaky at times otherwise.
Giorgio Chiellini 7 – A typical Chiellini display, as the Juventus centre-back was everywhere, putting out fires in defence and often finding himself in good attacking positions.
Alex Sandro 8 – Sandro’s attacking prowess sometimes detracts from his defensive ability, but this was a game where the latter came to the fore. Put in one goal-saving clearance and was solid throughout.
Emre Can 6 – Still looks unconvincing as a Juventus player, as he looked like the weakest link in his side’s midfield. His passing needs to improve for a side that is often in control of the ball in domestic games.
Miralem Pjanic 7 – A characteristically assured display from the midfielder, who helped Juve control possession and win the battle in the middle of the park.
Blaise Matuidi 6 – Good defensively, but wasteful from an attacking sense as a few of his attempts to link up with players like Ronaldo and Dybala failed thanks to poor touches or decision-making.
Paulo Dybala 5 – Struggled to have an influence on the game, blazing one shot wide when the Dybala of early last season would have at least hit the target. Still looking to find top form.
Mario Mandzukic 9 – Enjoying a run as Juve’s lead striker, as the decision to play him through the centre and Ronaldo out wide continues to pay dividends. Two excellent poachers’ goals from the Croat.
Cristiano Ronaldo 9 – Would have wanted to get on the scoresheet himself, but will have to be content with knowing he set up all three goals on Saturday. His cross for Mandzukic and flick-on for Bonucci were excellent.
Rodrigo Bentancur 6 – Came on for Can, but offered little improvement as his passing was even more wayward.
Federico Bernardeschi 7 – Would have been disappointed not to start, and in the half-hour cameo that he had, he showed that he probably should have, making much more of an impact than Dybala had.
Juan Cuadrado 6 – A late substitute, Cuadrado had little time to make an impact, although he provided fresh legs as Massimiliano withdrew the superb Mandzukic.
They may take a season where they lose their grip on the domestic crown if it brings them European glory, but for now, continuing their supremacy over the Serie A remains an equal goal. It showed in Massimiliano Allegri‘s team selection in midweek: five players who started in the weekend win over Frosinone retained their spot in the XI for Wednesday’s victory over Bologna, including Ronaldo.
This will be the first time he’ll have played a Serie A match with a proper sense of occasion, not to mention a tenseness where the result matters just as much as his own performance. He’s made a habit of performing when it matters most during his career, but this is the first time he’ll face that test as a Juventus player.
More than anything, however, Ronaldo’s competitiveness and sense of showmanship will be motivating him to give the fans a taste of what he can produce.
Ominously for Napoli, there are signs that he’s hitting top form. Though he didn’t score on Wednesday, he scored three in two games before that.
NAPOLI’S STATUS AS CHALLENGERS PUT TO THE TEST
The Carlo Ancelotti hire this summer was meant to be Napoli’s big statement. That they could lure someone of such pedigree to replace Maurizio Sarri showed that they were convinced last season’s title charge, while it ended fruitless, was not a flash in the pan.
So far, they’ve started well, though losing one game in Serie A can be a fatal blow to title hopes when chasing Juventus. That 3-0 loss to Sampdoria can be put behind them if they repeat last season’s win at the Allianz Stadium – a result which would take them to the top of the table, level on points but with the head-to-head win. More importantly, it would let the champions know that, flashy new striker or not, they’re in for a fight to win the title, just as they were last season.
In that respect, Napoli need the win more than their rivals do. There’s already a sense that Juve are going to cruise to an eighth straight Serie A championship, a feeling which will only grow if they can open up a six-point gap this early in the season. Ronaldo may have done wonders for the profile of Italian football, but what it really needs is a true title fight. Can Napoli provide one?
TIME FOR DYBALA TO MAKE HIS CASE?
Paulo Dybala has had a middling start to the season, following on from a below-par campaign in 2017-18 after he’d set the league on fire the season before. But he started and scored on Wednesday, and there were signs that a partnership with Ronaldo is beginning to develop.
Douglas Costa’s suspension is the perfect opportunity for Dybala to make his case to be restored to a starting berth on a more permanent basis, and it’s good fortune that a game of this significance has arrived this soon. He more or less won Juve the title last season with a dramatic late goal against Lazio on a day Napoli lost against Roma, and another telling contribution in that vein will do his case no harm.
More importantly, however, it’s the link-up with Ronaldo that will be scrutinised closely. The Portugal star is the centre of gravity for whatever team he’s in, and how Dybala can adapt to that will determine how successful his season is – and how bright his Juventus future looks, with rumours abounding that the club are willing to part ways with him at the end of this season. Saturday is a chance to provide a pointed reminder that doing so would be a mistake.