Paulo Dybala announced his return to the Juventus starting line-up with a match-winning brace as the Serie A champions triumphed 3-1 at Verona.
Dybala was handed a start by head coach Massimiliano Allegri for the first time in four Serie A matches – his impressive early season form having collapsed amid calls from Juve vice-president Pavel Nedved for the 24-year-old to “make sacrifices in his private life”.
The former Palermo favourite’s impact was peripheral to begin with, as Blaise Matuidi netted a sixth-minute opener and Gonzalo Higuain regularly threatened more punishment for second-bottom Verona.
But ex-Juve defender Martin Caceres elevated an all-action showing by firing home a long-range equaliser before the hour and Allegri’s men were facing reaching the halfway point of the season with a three-point deficit to league leaders Napoli.
However, the gap was cut back down to one thanks to a rejuvenated Dybala, who scored in the 72nd and 77th minutes and can certainly have a key influence upon the destination of the title in this form.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) December 30, 2017
Medhi Benatia headed over from Dybala’s second-minute corner and the Argentina forward’s countryman Higuain played a pivotal role in the visitors’ opener when his rasping drive cannoned back off the post and Matuidi clinically dispatched the rebound.
Higuain was catching the ball sweetly and forced Verona goalkeeper Nicolas to save down to his right with a low drive from outside the box before a brilliant free-kick in the 19th minute curled agonisingly wide.
Italy Under-21 international Daniele Verde almost found a spectacular equaliser as the half hour approached by cutting inside Juventus right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner and unleashing a strike that swerved beyond Wojciech Szczesny’s far post.
Nicolas excelled himself five minutes before the break by denying Higuain from point-blank range on the end of Alex Sandro’s cross, ensuring the deficit remained a slender one at half-time.
While a booked Caceras remonstrated in animated fashion with referee Paolo Silvio Mazzoleni as the teams left the field – far removed from his later joy – there were concerns over a limping Higuain.
But he was not substituted at the interval, when midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur made way for winger Federico Bernardeschi to give the Juve line-up an even more attacking look.
Bernardeschi drew a sharp 58th-minute save from Nicolas, but Allegri was left to question his ambition shortly afterwards when Sami Khedira was caught out in a seemingly under-manned midfield and Caceres rifled home from range to his obvious delight.
— Hellas Verona FC (@HellasVeronaFC) December 30, 2017
On-loan Juventus youngster Moise Kean had his parent club’s defence scrambling, but captain Giorgio Chiellini was on hand to avert the danger.
As the champions faced the prospect of dropping points on a night when victory should have been sewn up, Dybala thrillingly took centre stage.
Lichtsteiner bravely created his first – flinging himself towards a loose ball on the right and crashing into Caceres as he turned it into the box for Dybala to finish.
The experienced Swiss defender made way with his injuries, but Dybala ensured his efforts were not in vain as he sashayed through a tiring Verona defence and dispatched a marvellous solo effort.
The superlative Argentine thought he had a hat-trick when Nicholas beat away his 80th-minute free-kick, by which point there was no doubt over the identity of the game’s decisive star.
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