In three massive games for Juventus this past week, the Italian giants would’ve been lost without their ace Argentine strike partnership: Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala.
First, it was the March 3 league clash with fourth-place Lazio, which looked to be heading for a frustrating 0-0 tie until Dybala struck in the 93rd minute to snatch the three points and keep the Old Lady in the title hunt.
Then it was time for Wednesday’s Champions League Round of 16 second leg matchup in London against an extremely in-form Tottenham. After a first half in which Spurs dominated the football and the emotion of the occasion, Juventus shifted formation, tightened up and scored two goals in four minutes to turn the tie completely on its head. Tottenham couldn’t strike back, and Juventus sailed into the quarter-finals. The goal-scorers? First Higuaín, then Dybala, assisted by el Pipita himself.
Finally, that Lazio win proved even more crucial than originally thought when Juventus put away Udinese 2-0 on Sunday, again with the help of a brace of Dybala strikes. Then-league leaders Napoli couldn’t keep up, finishing scoreless in their match with fifth-place Inter Milan.
Juventus are now in the driver’s seat as they head into the final stages of both Serie A (a point and a game in hand) and the Champions League (a performance of pure class that shows they can beat anyone).
After a mid-length injury, Dybala was listed only as an alternative for Argentina’s pair of World Cup tune-up friendlies in late March. But based on this evidence, there’s no way Selección head coach Jorge Sampaoli can possibly think to leave Dybala out of the team heading to Russia in June. Higuaín was always going to lead the line for the Albiceleste, likely next to Sergio Agüero, but his clutch performances in the past 10 days, after coming off a slight injury himself, will have shut up the few critics calling for his aging body to make way for new blood.
Surprise results were in short supply this week. Boca Juniors (2-1 against Tigre), Talleres (3-1 against Atlético Tucumán) and Independiente (2-1 against Argentinos Juniors) all won their matches at home, maintaining the dynamic at the top: Eight points between one and two, three points between two and three.
Next come Godoy Cruz, who, similarly to Racing Club (discussed last week), have ridden a strong run of form in the past few months into fourth place. They’ve taken 17 of a possible 24 points since play resumed in late January, drawing with River Plate and losing only to Racing.
Next comes San Lorenzo, one point behind in fifth but with a game in hand, then Racing another point behind in sixth. But this whole section of the table remains incredibly tight, with just eight points separating third and 13th.
A tiny ray of sunlight appeared in the form of a rare River Plate victory, only their second in eight games in all competitions since the summer break. Los Millonarios are now in 18th.
Lionel Messi was rested and not in the 18 in Barcelona’s (first, Spain) routine 2-0 win against Málaga (20th). He's sure to feature front and center in their Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Chelsea on March 14, currently 1-1 on aggregate.
Éver Banega played 90 minutes in Sevilla’s (Spain, fifth) frustrating 2-0 loss to Valencia (fourth), a result which makes it an 11-point gap between the two and all but cements those places in the table.
Sergio Agüero suffered a knee injury in training and did not feature in the 18 for Manchester City's (England, first) match against Stoke City on Monday. He’s expected back in two weeks.
Érik Lamela was a 34th minute substitute for the injured Harry Kane in Tottenham's (England, fourth) 4-1 win over Bournemouth (12th) on Sunday.
Marcos Rojo was not in the 18 and Sergio Romero was an unused substitute in Manchester United’s (England, second) massive 2-1 win over Liverpool (fourth) on Saturday.
Ángel Di María started and played 71 minutes, while Giovani Lo Celso was a 64th minute substitute in Paris Saint Germain’s (France, first) 5-0 win over Metz (20th).
Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuaín were crucial to Juventus’ (Italy, first) success in two matches this week: first in their 2-1 win in the Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Tottenham, in which each scored one goal; second, in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Udinese (11th), in which Dybala had a brace. See Top Story.
Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Mascherano both played 90 minutes and Lavezzi scored two goals in Hebei China Fortune’s (China, eighth) 3-2 win over Guizhou Hengfeng/Zhicheng (15th).