Paulo Dybala is back, or at least that’s what Juventus is embracing ahead of its showdown against Roma on Saturday.
After being benched for the previous two Serie A matches, Dybala returned to the starting lineup on Wednesday and provided a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over Genoa in the Italian Cup.
”Paulo played well, as did the whole team,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. ”He’s an extraordinary player and I’m happy with his performance, he showed some good touches. He needed a goal and we hope it will help him to relax a little.
”He only needs to focus on training, keeping calm, and doing what he does best: We all want to see him get back to being the `real Dybala’ again. But it’s not as if the player lost himself in one month, this is something which happens to everyone, especially a 24-year-old.”
Dybala had an astonishing start to the season, netting 10 goals in the opening six league matches, just one less than he scored in the whole of the last campaign.
However, going into Wednesday’s match, the Argentina forward had scored just twice since the end of September and hadn’t found the back of the net in his previous six matches.
Dybala’s celebrations after scoring three minutes from halftime showed just how much the goal meant to him.
He normally celebrates with his hand over part of his face – the so-called `Dybala mask.’ This time there was pure joy as he beat his hand on his chest over the Juventus badge and cupped his ear as if in response to his critics.
Dybala also raced toward the stands, pointing his finger at the media section following weeks in which his form has been analyzed and criticized.
Dybala had been desperate for that goal, which was noticeable at the weekend. After being sent on as a late substitute against Bologna, he attempted a shot instead of passing to Gonzalo Higuain, who was in a much better position.
There was no such mistake on Wednesday as, after relieving some of the pressure on him with his first-half goal, Dybala set up Higuain for the second.
”Paulo made a really strong start to the campaign, we can even say he scored `too many,”’ Higuain said. ”As soon as he stopped scoring, the criticism about him exploded, but I hope this goal tonight will be the springboard he needs to get going again.”
Allegri’s new tactics helped Dybala, placing him in a center-forward role in a 4-3-3 system. He dropped back when Higuain was brought on, to play second striker as the formation switched to 4-4-2.
”I’m pleased because we covered the space well today,” Allegri said. ”Clearly, when Dybala is playing center forward we need our midfielders to push up into the box a bit more but it could be a useful tactical option for us.”
Dybala will face a trickier time against Roma, which has the best defense in the league, having conceded only 10 in 16 matches. That will be tested by Juve, which has the best attack with 44 in 17.
Juventus sits second in Serie A, one point less than Napoli in what is shaping up to be the tightest title race in years. Inter Milan is third, one point behind Juve, and Roma is two points further back but with a game in hand on the top three.