Dybala double sends Juventus clear of title rivals

Paulo Dybala hit a brace as champion Juventus underscored its Serie A title credentials only eight games into the campaign with a battling 2-1 win over Udinese on Saturday.

Paulo Dybala celebrates his goal against Udinese.   -  Reuters

Paulo Dybala hit a brace as champion Juventus underscored its Serie A title credentials only eight games into the campaign with a battling 2-1 win over Udinese on Saturday.

Juventus had been given a huge incentive before their late kick-off with the league's other 'bianconeri' side after Roma stunned Napoli 3-1 at the San Paolo.

It moved Roma up to second place at two points adrift and dropped Napoli — considered the biggest threat to Juve's hopes of a record sixth consecutive title -— to third at five points off the pace.

Juve's seventh win in eight games left Roma in second at five points adrift and Napoli in third at seven points behind.

Just over a year after suffering defeat to Udinese in its opening match of the 2015-2016 campaign, the northerners had reason to believe in another upset.

Massimiliano Allegri left striker Gonzalo Higuain, defender Leonardo Bonucci and midfielders Sami Khedira and Dani Alves on the bench as he looks ahead to Tuesday's Champions League trip to Lyon.

After an action-packed opening period in which both teams created a series of half-chances, Juve was stunned by Czech Under-21 star Jakub Jankto.

Jankto pounced on a misplaced pass from veteran France defender Patrice Evra and cut across the edge of the area to unleash a drive that beat Gianluigi Buffon.

Jankto's celebrations were epic, but beating Juve's legendary 'keeper on only his fourth Serie A appearance is nothing to be sniffed at.

Yet his and Udinese's joy was short-lived.

After Swiss wing-back Stephan Lichsteiner hit a great chance into the side-netting following a slick exchange of passes between Dybala and Juan Cuadrado, the Argentinian striker turned on the style.

A free kick was awarded on the edge of the area when Brazilian defender impeded Mario Lemina, and Dybala stepped up to curl his effort past a diving Orestis Karnezis and into the top right corner.

Cuadrado skied a first-time effort from the edge of the area three minutes after the restart, but the Colombian made amends soon after when an exchange with Alex Sandro saw the Brazilian wingback fouled by Rodrigo De Paul.

The referee pointed to the spot and Dybala stepped up to send Karnezis the wrong way to secure his sixth brace in Serie A, and his second against Udinese.

Juve immediately began playing with more purpose, but attempts to put the match to bed proved fruitless. Indeed Juventus was made to suffer a nervous finale.

Sandro headed wide from Lichtsteiner's cross and after Higuain replaced Mario Mandzukic on 66 minutes the Argentine's drive from a Sandro pass was deflected out for a corner.

Dybala had the ball in the net after he ran behind the defence to round Karnezis only to be ruled offside.

But at the other end, Buffon came to the rescue to palm Cyril Thereau's drive around the post for a corner and then Evra narrowly avoided scoring an own goal when he slid in to take the ball from the feet of Duvan Zapata as he waited to pull the trigger.

Dybala was given a standing ovation when he was replaced with Stefano Sturaro with eight minutes to play, but Udinese dug in, Buffon producing a crucial one-handed save to tip Felipe's header on to the upright from point-blank range in the closing minutes.

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