All eyes were on Juventus' all-conquering new striker as the Old Lady set off on their latest attempt to defend the Serie A title now regarded as a regular fixture in the club's trophy cabinet. But while Cristiano Ronaldo has shaken off his early jitters to show the goalscoring form we all expect, another man has also taken centre-stage in Turin.
Rodrigo Bentancur might not be as flashy as his new team-mate, but the Uruguayan midfielder is going from strength to strength in the heart of the Juve engine room and is quickly becoming the man who makes everyone tick for his near-invincible side.
Bentancur was snapped up by Juve in July 2017, a matter of weeks after his 20 th birthday. His first season was always going to be a steep learning curve for the former Boca Juniors prospect, and so it proved.
With just five Serie A starts in 2017-18 he had to bide his time behind established international names like Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi. Bentancur's chances also looked rather bleak for the current term: the free transfer signing of Liverpool's Emre Can only added competition to the midfield, leaving the youngster kicking his heels on the bench as the campaign kicked off in imperious fashion for the Bianconeri.
Word was, the 21-year-old might even start looking for a new club in time for the January transfer window. But instead he has chosen to meet the challenge head on, building on an exceptional World Cup with Uruguay to become a key part of the Juve machine.
Players in Bentancur's position do not always catch the eye. At least, not if they are doing their jobs correctly. His role is to sit deep in midfield alongside the imperious Pjanic – a duo that mirrors the player's wonderful, youthful pairing with fellow Uruguay hotshot Lucas Torreira - moving the ball around constantly while Matuidi is afforded a more roving role linking with the likes of Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Mandzukic.
It can be a thankless task. Certainly, his exploits in Boca were not fully appreciated by the notoriously demanding Xeneize fanbase, who in the best Argentine tradition prefer their defensive midfielders to fly into the tackle with little regard for their own safety or anyone else's. Bentancur prefers the scalpel to the sledgehammer, gaining possession cleanly and quickly before moving it on to Joao Cancelo on the overlap and keeping Juve's shape intact.
That is not to say, of course, that the youngster is inflexible. He has played across the midfield line this season, thrust into a regular place due to injuries to Khedira and Can, and has proved himself up to the task in every sense.
Bentancur was Juventus' stand-out player in their Champions League double-header against Manchester United as well as in a huge 2-0 victory over Serie A rivals AC Milan, running the pitch with a maturity that belies his tender age. Max Allegri is a confirmed admirer, showering praise on his young charge in October after a rare goal against Udinese.
"Rodrigo Bentancur impressed me in midfield, both from a tactical and technical perspective, then he obviously scored the goal as well,” the Juventus coach signalled to reporters. Following victory over Cagliari and another fine showing, he was again effusive: “He played a great game, he is growing a great deal.
“We knew that he had the quality and we only had to wait a while for him to develop it. He has fulfilled our hopes both in quantity and quality, he is growing up and we know he will have more chances to play and see action.”
Even when the illustrious Khedira, veteran of successful Serie A, Liga, Champions League and even World Cup campaigns, returns from his latest injury setback, he might find it hard to stake a place back in the Juve starting XI. Bentancur is the new darling of Turin, shaking off those early doubts with his magisterial distribution and outrageous potential that promise to make him a star for club and country in the years to come.