Sports

'Bull's eye!': Dybala works through adversity with class

Juventus' Paulo Dybala, left, celebrates after scoring during an Italian Cup, round of 16 soccer match between Juventus and Atalanta, at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Italy, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (Alessandro Di Marco/ANSA via AP)

Juventus' Paulo Dybala, left, celebrates after scoring during an Italian Cup, round of 16 soccer match between Juventus and Atalanta, at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Italy, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (Alessandro Di Marco/ANSA via AP)

ROME — "Take a bow and arrow, aim: Bull's eye!"

That's what Paulo Dybala tweeted after scoring one goal and setting up another in Juventus' 3-2 win over Atalanta in the Italian Cup.

If only it was always that easy for the Argentina forward.

Considered one of the brightest young talents in world soccer, the 23-year-old Dybala is enduring a turbulent season that has included a six-week injury layoff and a decisive penalty blocked by AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in the Italian Super Cup shootout that reduced him to tears.

"I had a bit of a rough time over the break," Dybala said. "I had never missed a penalty with Juventus before and I missed the most important one."

Fortunately, the rough spell didn't last long.

Dybala regained his confidence from the penalty spot by converting in Juventus' first match after the holiday break, a 3-0 win over Bologna.

Midway through the first half against Atalanta on Wednesday, Dybala scored with a splendid volley from outside the area following a touch from Mario Mandzukic. Then he returned the favour by threading a pass through several defenders to Mandzukic, who made it 2-0.

By the end of the month, Juventus is expected to extend Dybala's contract by one year to 2021 and increase his salary — which would end speculation over potential moves to Barcelona and Real Madrid.

"I'm not someone who goes and reads the newspapers. I read these things on social media but these are things you have to ask the club and my agent about," Dybala said. "I train all week focused on Juventus to repay the fans for their affection. I don't worry about external things.

"My agent will arrive over the next few days and we should have some news next week," Dybala added. "I'm happy here. ... I'm in good condition now but I think I can still offer a lot more."

Nicknamed "La Joya" — The Jewel in Spanish — Dybala was handed the difficult task of replacing the departed Carlos Tevez in Juventus' attack last season after a celebrated transfer from Palermo. He responded with 23 goals in 46 matches in all competitions, helping the Bianconeri to a fifth straight Serie A title and the Italian Cup trophy.

Capable of playing any position and just as adept at creating chances as scoring — not to mention his ability on free kicks — Dybala might be Juventus' most complete forward since Alessandro Del Piero.

When Paul Pogba left for Manchester United before this season, Dybala was offered Del Piero's old No. 10 but he turned it down, preferring to keep his No. 21 shirt.

As a "trequartista" — playmaker — Dybala has proven capable of complementing both Mandzukic and fellow Argentina forward Gonzalo Higuain, who took some of the pressure off Dybala when he joined Juventus in an Italian-record 90 million euro ($100 million) transfer from Napoli before this season.

"I am only 23, so I need to improve in so many areas, such as my physical strength and my right foot," Dybala said. "I am enjoying the trequartista position that (coach Massimiliano) Allegri is giving me. It gives me a lot of space and I can express myself well there."

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf