Dybala hailed as ‘a genius’ by Juventus team-mate Matuidi

Paulo Dybala is a “genius” and will become one of the best players in world football, according to Juventus team-mate Blaise Matuidi.

Since arriving from Palermo in 2015 the diminutive forward has earned rave reviews at the Allianz Stadium, scoring 59 goals in all competitions for the Bianconeri.

He is Juve’s joint leading goalscorer in Serie A this season with 14, while also laying on three assists for team-mates as Massimiliano Allegri’s side battle Napoli for the Scudetto.

Dybala’s qualities have impressed Matuidi since his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain in August, with midfield partner Miralem Pjanic also catching the France international’s eye.

“I see him [Dybala] becoming a very, very big player,” Matuidi told L’Equipe.

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“With the ball, he’s a genius.

“Mire has already done some very good things and still has a lot of good years ahead of him, and when you’re close to him, you realise that he’s a great player, he knows how to do everything.”

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Pjanic and Dybala were not the only team-mates earning praise from Matuidi, though, the midfielder unable to leave out Gianluigi Buffon when asked who had impressed him the most since arriving in Turin.

“I knew him [Buffon] as a player, but not as a man, and the man too is extraordinary, great, great respect, a great professional,” he added.

“I see him in training, he leaves nothing to chance.”


Juventus 1 Atalanta 0 (2-0 agg): Pjanic sends Juve into Coppa Italia final

Juventus stayed in contention for a fourth consecutive domestic double as Miralem Pjanic’s second-half penalty sealed a 1-0 win over Atalanta, closing out a 2-0 aggregate triumph in the Coppa Italia semi-final.

It was far from plain sailing for Massimiliano Allegri’s men, with Atalanta the better side early on before Alejandro Gomez struck the post, almost capitalising upon an uncharacteristic lapse from Gianluigi Buffon.

Gomez failed to convert a spot-kick in the initial encounter and saw an impressive display go unrewarded on this occasion.

Pjanic was booked in first-half stoppage time for diving in the area but, when a more clear foul was committed by Gianluca Mancini on Blaise Matuidi, he made no mistake.

Allegri will acknowledge this was not a display to live long in the memory but, with an absorbing title tussle between Napoli and Juve poised to go to the wire, his men took another step towards their latest piece of history.

Atalanta fell behind to a Gonzalo Higuain goal within three minutes in the first leg but made an enterprising start at the Allianz Stadium – three days on from heavy snowfall causing the sides’ Serie A meeting to be postponed.

Keen to make up from his first leg penalty miss, Gomez led the Atalanta charge and sent a dipping shot on to the roof of the veteran goalkeeper’s net.

The Atalanta captain’s playmaking skills were to the fore early on and he began a 13th-minute move before darting into the box and prodding Josip Ilicic’s cross too close to Buffon.

Matuidi almost got on the end of Pjanic’s dangerous free-kick, seemingly doing enough to rouse a lacklustre Juve start as Allegri’s men started to pin Atalanta back.

Etrit Berisha stood firm 10 minutes before half-time to deny Mario Mandzukic – starting at centre-forward in Higuain’s continued ankle-injury absence – and the visiting goalkeeper shovelled Douglas Costa’s curling shot to safety, having been partially unsighted.

Experienced midfielder Claudio Marchisio was the next Juve player to test Berisha early in the second period.

A steady stream of pressure from the Serie A champions appeared set to take the tie away from Atalanta but they almost levelled the aggregate score in remarkable circumstances after 64 minutes.

Gomez ran on to the ball 35 yards from goal and found Buffon inexplicably way out of his ground, lifting a shot beyond the stranded 40-yard-old that came back off the post.

Atalanta’s skipper then drilled a rasping effort over from the edge of the box before it was Costa’s turn to rattle the bar from similar range at the other end, with a sweetly struck left-footed attempt.

Juventus finally had their breathing space 15 minutes from time after Mancini needlessly pulled Matuidi to ground inside the box and Pjanic succeeded where Gomez failed from 12 yards.


Juventus critics don’t know how good Tottenham are, says Pjanic

Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic says critics of his side’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham do not appreciate the strength of the Premier League side.

Juve raced into a 2-0 lead inside the first 10 minutes of the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie, but goals from Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen sealed a draw for Spurs to put them in the driving seat ahead of the return game at Wembley.

The Serie A champions faced a lot of criticism for their performance in Turin, prompting striker Gonzalo Higuain, who scored both of their goals, to blast the “armchair fans” for their comments.

And Pjanic insists Juve should not be too disappointed with the result against Mauricio Pochettino’s side.

“It was too much [criticism] because we faced Tottenham, who are a very good team from the midfield up,” he told Premium Sport.

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“They’re a quality team, so maybe those who criticised didn’t know Tottenham.

“We should have managed the game better at 2-0 but it’s not over. We believe in ourselves and obviously we want to go through.”

While Juve’s European campaign is still alive, Serie A leaders Napoli exited the Europa League on Thursday, with their 2-0 win at RB Leipzig not enough to avoid an aggregate defeat on away goals.

Pjanic expects them to go all out to win the title now but warns Juve are determined to claim every trophy they can.

“Napoli are our great rival for the Scudetto. It’s a pity for them: they would have gone a long way in Europe,” he said.

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“I think we’ll be fighting with Napoli until the end and the head-to-head match could be decisive. We’re out to win the Scudetto, and to get to the end in the Coppa Italia and the Champions League.”

Pjanic hopes the return of Blaise Matuidi, who has missed Juve’s last three games with a hamstring injury, will galvanise the team.

“I knew Blaise before. He’s an aggressive player who gives you a lot of physicality and running. He helps me a lot, he integrated into the group and immediately became an important player. His return will certainly be valuable for us,” he added.


Juventus ‘pianist’ Pjanic admits he turned down Spurs and Arsenal

Ahead of the Champions League round-of-16 tie against Tottenham, Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic has revealed he previously turned down the chance to play for Spurs.

The two sides meet in Turin for the opening leg on Tuesday, with Pjanic set to feature against the club he could have joined in 2012.

Following Luka Modric’s departure to Real Madrid, Pjanic — then of Roma — was approached about a potential switch to the Premier League, having earlier decided against moving to Arsenal when he was at Lyon.

“There was the opportunity but at that moment I told them I was happy where I was and that’s why we didn’t sign the deal,” Pjanic told the Telegraph, while warning his team-mates that Mauricio Pochettino’s side will be a force to be reckoned with.

“But I made my choice using my head and if I made that choice not to go to an English team it was for good reasons.

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“We are very competitive, very hungry and we definitely want to win it [the Champions League]. But Tottenham are a great team.”

Pjanic left Roma for Juve in 2016 and has become an integral part of Massimiliano Allegri’s plans, appearing in all but four league games of 2017-18 as the Bianconeri chase a seventh successive Scudetto.

The midfielder has been nicknamed ‘the pianist’ due to his masterful control of the game – a moniker the Bosnian enjoys.

“I like that name, I think I was called the pianist because of the way I play,” he said. “It’s true that I don’t score many goals, just a few, but they are beautiful when I do score!

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“I think it’s more about my style of play, how I touch the ball, how I pass the ball, how I move it. It’s a nice nickname but I want to effect things through what I do and not through words.

“I am very good at keeping the ball, I ask for the ball and I aim to help make my team-mates play and try and serve them as much as possible.

“I remember when I signed the contract to come here to Juventus, Allegri told me that I could become one of the best in this position in the world. I need to improve but that’s what I want.”


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