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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Juventus' yet-to-peak superstar Paulo Dybala is leading the Argentine goal rush across Europe

Striker heads into Wednesday's Serie A match against Fiorentina with two hat-tricks to his name in forst four games of the season

Juventus’ Paulo Dybala celebrates scoring against Sassuolo. Alberto Lingria / Reuters
Juventus’ Paulo Dybala celebrates scoring against Sassuolo. Alberto Lingria / Reuters

To look across the top leagues of Europe at the end of the weekend, a full month – a little more in some cases – into the season, was to see a pattern. If you were looking from distant Buenos Aires, it was streaked in encouragingly bold sky-blue and white. Top of the goalscoring charts in England, Spain and Italy? They are all Argentines.

It is habitual for Lionel Messi to be up there; it is typically Sergio Aguero, shaking off an uncomfortable demotion to the substitutes’ bench at Manchester City, to be proving once again that he is the sharpest shooter over the last five years in the Premier League.

But the real eye-catching gush of goals are those from Juventus’s current predator de luxe. And no, it’s not their €90 million (Dh396m) Argentine centre-forward, Gonzalo Higuain, it is Paulo Dybala.

Dybala goes into Wednesday’s meeting with Fiorentina on the back of two hat-tricks already – the second and third of his entire professional career – in four matches in Serie A.

Paulo Dybala scores from a free kick to complete his hat-trick against Sassuolo. Alberto Lingria / Reuters
Paulo Dybala scores from a free kick to complete his hat-trick against Sassuolo. Alberto Lingria / Reuters

Or, rather, make that three-and-a-bit matches. Against Chievo 11 days ago, he only came on 10 minutes into the second half, and promptly scored his fifth of the league campaign. He struck all the Juve goals in the 3-1 win at Sassuolo at the weekend, and now has eight of the 13 his team have accumulated so far in defence of their scudetto.

“He is a exceptional, special player,” said Max Allegri, the Juventus manager. “And still there is room for improvement in him.”

Dybala turns 24 in November and has just passed the milestone of 100 matches in a Juve jersey. Neatly, he scored his 50th goal in his 100th game on Sunday. And his 51st. And 52nd. And he asked reporters immediately after the show to desist from a habit that he finds burdensome. “No more comparisons with Messi,” he pleaded. “I am Paulo Dybala and that’s all I want to be.”

He has said so before, because, being from Argentina, possessing wonderful balance, close-control, quick feet and a diminutive frame, the comparisons have followed him for a long time, even when he was with Palermo, from whom Juventus bought him for an initial €32m two summers ago.

Regarding Messi as a role model and a hero, as he does, is one thing. Feeling that being likened to Messi is a uncomfortable pressure is another. Dybala has had enough of it for this season alone.

A week ago, Messi’s Barcelona outplayed Dybala’s Juventus in the opening group match of the Uefa Champions League, their 3-0 win at Camp Nou an answer to Juventus having beaten Barca by the same scoreline – a superb Dybala scored twice – in the quarter-finals of the last season's competition.

It’s a blemish on Juve’s start to the season, and not the only one. The champions may have been in command of their league fixtures so far, but they lost the Supercoppa Italia to Lazio and felt chastened by their trip to Catalonia, where Messi scored twice.

It does not take much to provoke a nervous self-scrutiny among Serie A’s leading clubs, and the fact that the three Italians in the Champions League – Juve, Napoli and Roma – only managed a point between them in the first round of group games has stimulated doubts about where Italy stands in the hierarchy.

Juventus broke a significant barrier by reaching their second European Cup final in three years last June, but they lost both of them, to Spanish sides, and although the summer saw some significant Serie A spending – especially by AC Milan – the money being lavished on new players by Paris Saint-Germain, who lured Dani Alves from Juventus; by Barcelona, who have a long-term eye on Dybala; and by elite English clubs seems threatening to the status of Italy’s top division.

Then there is the fact that the three clubs promoted from Serie B – SPAL, Verona and Benevento – have gathered just one win and one draw from 12 matches between them so far. That suggests that the distance between the summit and the foot of Serie A is rather too stretched.

Juve’s six successive titles are no great testimony to the league’s competitive edge, either. Juventus are grateful they have a genuine, yet-to-peak superstar in their ranks, in Dybala, but already fear he may be dreaming of upgrading to somewhere abroad.

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