ROME: This was just what Jose Mourinho had in mind when he lured Paulo Dybala to join Roma instead of a host of other suitors.
Dybala scored twice in less than a quarter of an hour — his first goals since joining Roma after his contract expired at Juventus — and the Giallorossi beat Silvio Berlusconi’s promoted Monza 3-0 to move atop Serie A on Tuesday.
“I had a lot of desire to score goals and fortunately they came here before our home fans,” Dybala said.
Dybala linked up perfectly with center forward Tammy Abraham, the first high-profile player who Mourinho brought to Roma when the coach returned to Italy last year.
First, a headed pass from Abraham set Dybala up near midfield and the Argentina international dribbled the rest of the way before slotting in between two defenders.
Dybala’s second — his 100th in Serie A — was a sliding effort to knock in a rebound off a shot from Abraham.
When Dybala came off during the second half, he shared a special moment with Mourinho.
“Last season during the match against Juventus when he came off, I told him, ‘You’re good,’” Mourinho said. “Today I told him the same thing.”
The coach also noted how the often-injured Dybala is returning to form ahead of the upcoming World Cup.
“This could be a sign of what’s to come in November and December in Qatar,” Mourinho said. “Maybe (Argentina coach Lionel) Scaloni can send some us a few bottles of wine to celebrate having another top player.”
Center back Roger Ibañez made it 3-0 by heading in a corner from Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini.
Seeking more significant hardware after winning the inaugural Europa Conference League title last season, Mourinho’s team moved one point ahead of Inter Milan, who beat promoted Cremonese 3-1 at the San Siro.
Roma’s last Serie A title came in 2001.
“There’s a positive vibe within the team, having won a big title, but it’s still early to talk about (trophies),” Dybala said.
Defending champion AC Milan were left two points back after being held to a 0-0 draw at Sassuolo ahead of Saturday’s derby with Inter — the team it battled with at the top of the standings until the final day of last season.
Meanwhile, Berlusconi’s Monza were left at the bottom of the standings with zero points in their Serie A debut. Berlusconi, the former Italian premier and Milan owner, bought Monza in 2018 and brought the team up from Serie C.
With Romelu Lukaku out injured, Joaquin Correa, Nicolo Barella and Lautaro Martinez scored for Inter as the Nerazzurri rebounded from a lackluster 3-1 loss at Lazio.
Correa turned in a rebound off a shot from Edin Džeko, Barella drilled in a long volley then Barella set up Martinez to finish off a counterattack.
David Okereke pulled one back for Cremonese in the final minutes.
It was a much quieter ending for Milan compared to when they clinched their first Italian title in 11 years at Sassuolo on the final day of last season.
Amid an imminent ownership change, the Rossoneri’s main highlight came when goalkeeper Mike Maignan saved a penalty.
It was the second consecutive away draw for Milan, who are coming off their first Italian title in 11 years.
Maignan stopped a poorly directed penalty from Domenico Berardi in the first half — marking the ninth penalty he’s saved of the 29 he’s faced since arriving in Serie A from Lille last year.
Berardi, an Italy striker, was carried off injured in the second half, while Milan was left with 10 men in stoppage time when Alessandro Florenzi came off injured, too, with all the team’s substitutions already used.
Earlier Tuesday, it emerged that the New York Yankees are buying a minority stake in Milan as an investor alongside RedBird Capital Partners. The closing for the ownership change is expected over the next couple of days, making for a busy week in the buildup to the derby.
“The guys already know about the difficulties we had today and that’s important aspect in terms of preparing for the derby,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said. “The derby is the derby. The rivalry with Inter goes beyond the standings.”