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We Need to Talk About Paulo – The Dybala Dilemma

November 10, 2017

Saturday 23rd September 2017, Paulo Dybala runs on to a pass from Miralem Pjanic and smashes the ball home from the edge of the area, the first goal of four for Juve in the Derby Della Mole. Cue familiar celebration, but this wasn’t just about beating our cross-city rivals, it was a culmination of excitement and anticipation which had been building since the beginning of the season. Could we be seeing the arrival of a true Juventus great? He had recently been given the famous number ten jersey and it seemed as if he had matured overnight. Del Piero 2.0? Comparisons were not that short of the mark in this case. Interviews with him around that time were positive and bold and acquired an almost captain-like quality by rallying his team mates. He isn’t in the category of bloodied foreheads and tough tackling, like Chiellini, but it was certainly exciting to hear from a normally quiet and unassuming player.

A natural in the Trequartista role since his £23.4m move from Palermo in 2015; One always gets the feeling he’s more of a creator of goals rather than a goal scorer, although his goal scoring record is impressive; 20 in his debut season with Juve and 19 last year. The Torino game was the high-water mark of Dybala’s season so far after absolutely thunderous start where he scored 12 goals in eight games, this included hat-tricks away to Genoa and Sassuolo. His surging start prompted mutterings of intent from the English media about a move to the Premier League. Digressing here, I always find this particularly grating and patronising as these stories always have a hint of the journalist just noticing a player who has scored a few goals and they instantly add two and two together, as if every player dreams of playing in England and playing in England is the only way a player can be really considered to be at the top of his game. The myopic media also presume any English team can sign anyone on a whim. This is partly true with the vast amounts of money in the English game, but again I digress.

The turning point for Paulo, and if we’re being honest, Juve in general, came away to Atalanta in October. A late summer evening where Juve, with a helping hand from the VAR (video assistant referee), were denied a win. A dubious VAR assisted penalty in the last minute gave Juve a chance to seal the win. Dybala, usually so reliable (although always goes to the goalkeeper’s right) had his penalty saved. The result, a draw after being two goals up and a stumble for Juve ahead of the international break.

Since then he has scored one in nine games and missed another last minute, VAR assisted penalty in the home defeat to Lazio. Now despite what we may believe Paulo actually is human and is prone to the same pressures and stresses of adult life, it was always unlikely he would continue to shred defences at the rate we had seen earlier in the season. However, the question should be asked is why the almighty drop off in form? From the dynamic, flair demon to a lifeless and timid shell of the player we know and love. Last Sunday’s game against Benevento (incidentally, the term ‘home banker’ was coined for this match up) was easily Paulo’s worst of the season as time and again he dropped deeper and deeper into midfield and left to forage for attacking scraps in the absence of Pjanic. The Bosnian is the perfect foil for Dybala as he links the midfield and attack with an effortless style which at times reminds me of Zidane.

What we have found when Pjanic doesn’t play is a lack of attacking influence in midfield, the knock-on effect is a disjointed and toothless attack with Higuain isolated as Pjanic’s stand in, usually Khedira, although more recently Marchisio and Matuidi, desperately try to emulate Pjanic. They’re completely different players and it’s often painful to see Juve so lacking in attacking ideas. As the weeks have worn on opposing defences have been increasingly able to cope with Dybala by having a defensive midfielder drop off or by playing an extra man in defence. Simple really, and you get the feeling the very best players will always find a way to lose their marker and make themselves more elusive in the final third. Injuries haven’t helped the stability of the midfield, but a reliable Pjanic-style back up would help.

It could be argued that, like Alex Sandro, his attention is elsewhere and, Dybala has an advantage over Sandro here as he’s had a strong start to the season, whereas Sandro has been flat out poor. However maybe the enthusiasm about turning out for the Bianconeri is waning. We were finally assured by Giuseppe Marotta in the summer that Dybala wouldn’t be going anywhere when rumours of a move to Barcelona surfaced, he was quoted as saying,

“We did not receive any direct offer from Barcelona for Dybala, but above all we had absolutely no intention of selling him and were certain he’d wear the Juventus jersey. We even gave him more responsibility with the number 10, a shirt that holds a great deal of importance in the tradition of Juventus.”

I say ‘finally’ as he, worryingly, said earlier,

“The player is the one who decides his fate and if he wants to leave, it’ll be impossible to keep him.”

Hardly the resounding ‘hands off’ warning we were looking for. However, the player himself upon being given the number ten shirt for upcoming season said he was concentrating on his future with Juve.

“I’m very happy at Juventus. I extended my contract three months ago, the club asked me to take their No 10 jersey, I thought about it for two days and said, ‘why not?’. I want to grow here. If the President wants me to, I’ll stay here forever.”

I think deep down, no matter how much we like to think otherwise, Dani Alves’ comments in the summer about Dybala needing to leave Juve to further his career, are quite true. That is unless we win the Champions League within the next two years, maybe then Dybala will stay, but such is the demand for success and coupled with the relative short shelf life of the 21st century footballer, means Juve are going to have to deliver big success or risk losing Dybala to one of the filthy rich clubs. Let’s face it any one of Barcelona, Real, the top five in England, Bayern or PSG would instantly be able to afford him.

I am not suggesting we sell him because he’s scored one in nine, however with the January transfer window looming on the horizon would Marotta and co. be tempted to cash in? Unless we have a replacement lined up, and by that, I mean a player of the quality and stature of Alexis Sanchez, it’s difficult to see us letting him go until the summer, especially if we’re still in the Champions League after Christmas. I am of course hysterically over reacting over a lack of form from someone who is still on the youthful side of 25, alas this is the job of a writer. I aim to provoke discussion and reaction among my peers.

Despite Paulo’s form, the team itself has been quietly, almost begrudgingly, going about their business since the defeat to Lazio. The bonkers goal-fest away to Udinese apart, we have shown all those Allegri tactical hallmarks by grinding out five wins and a draw. Yes folks, we’re undefeated since, according to some, our world fell apart after a home defeat by an impressively organised, up and coming team. It’s hasn’t been pretty at times but it’s very effective. I for one, in pre-season, was hoping for an uptick in entertainment value, given the signings of Costa and Bernardeschi. I’m still hopeful this will become reality as the season evolves. The new signings should’ve been a huge boost to our strikers, Higuain probably more so due to his style of play, but the added element of flair which both Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa have in their respective arsenal should’ve helped to create more for the front two as they take a little pressure off Dybala. This hasn’t happened yet. Allegri’s preference of Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado; last season’s pairing on the wings, has been productive in terms of goals and assists (three and five for Cuadrado and five and two for Mandzukic so far), but Dybala and Pjanic are still relied upon to create most of chances through the middle.

So where do we go from here? In September, Gonzalo Higuain was rested after an indifferent spell of form, the result since then is an impressive return of seven goals in nine games. The rest allowed him to re-charge the mind and body and I think Dybala would benefit from a substitute appearance or two. Bernardeschi, and to a lesser extent, Costa, purely because of the position he naturally plays, would certainly benefit from more playing time in the centre of the pitch, Bernardeschi has shown to be a capable goal scorer in his handful of appearances, with a no small amount of flair and creativity too.

We have seen Dybala become increasingly frustrated during games, I like a little edge to a player’s style; playing with a chip on the shoulder if you will. However, being caught on camera muttering Spanish insults, reportedly towards Allegri, and throwing your shin pads around after being substituted isn’t good for either player or manager. At best it’s a player aware of his talents and genuinely frustrated he hasn’t been able to impact a game in the way we know he can. At worst it screams petulant, egotistical, unprofessional and selfish. I’m hoping Allegri has spoken with Dybala and is helping him to channel that frustration into positive performances.

A lot depends on how he plays over the next six weeks leading up to Christmas. The longer this goes on, the more difficult the issue becomes. I believe it was Bill Shankly who told us “form is temporary, class is permanent”, Dybala has certainly shown a lot of the latter, we can only hope the former picks up very soon, for everybody’s sake.

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  • Mikkel Andersen

    Sandro and Dybala are the future of Juve.

    • ascherith

      sandro wanted to move to chelsea and because the club don’t want to sell him, he suddenly play very bad.
      i don’t think that’s the example of juve future.
      once spinazolla come back from loan, he is probably will be featuring more match then sandro.

      • Mikkel Andersen

        Then put Sandro on the bench. Just don’t sell him!

      • Xx RForcE xX

        how do you know he wanted to join Chelsea?did you ask him? all you know is the bullshit from media, english media , and we all know how fucked up they are, what kind of bullshit they are able to come with.
        Spinazolla is nowhere near Sandro mate,

  • Mixalis Neskis

    Great article Dave, but once again, I refuse to believe that our defense forgot how to defend and the likes of Dybala / Higuain forget overnight how to score. The “he has his mind set to a different club” argument does not make sense in the middle of the season. If anything, he should keep up a high level of play, to attract the offers he wants cometh summer(he knows that even a bad season is not enough to persuade Marotta to part with him in the cheap). Which brings us back to Allegri. I do not know what the fitnes regime of our players consist of (I have heard rummors of players throwing out etc.) but in my humble opinion, this is the main reason we see the team playing the way it does. If the players are not rested enough, it is only natural that they will not be at 100%. See how Matuidis play changed after a couple of months of training in Vinovo. They have no energy and it shows…plus because they are tired it is more difficult to focus and easy mistakes happen more often than they should…at the very end of the spectrum, the tiredness combined with the frustration of a match not going your way is the reason for those outbursts from the players.
    I know that the team is pushed now, to reach a max in the second round, but I do not see why such a strategy is necessary with the amount of players and talent we have in our dispossal. He could rotate playing time and brutal training in mini cicles and have all of our best players going from Sep. to May. Instead, Dybala plays all the matches and Berna only the last 5 minutes of every second game. Ruggani has to make place for a 36 year old and a DC with two left legs , while Chiellini plays until he get injured….!
    His contribution to Juve’s growth apart, Allegri is not anymore the one to bring us forward. We fixed our character with Conte, we learned to believe in miracles with Allegri, now we need someone who knows how to win and win in style. Alves was right, but not about the club’s chances of winning CL (this can be only one and there no guaranties ) but the club’s chances to play attractive football. If Dybala wants to be considered among the best, he has to score and create a lot, for that to happen, the whole team needs to play in a particular way…otherwise, 20 -25 a season will be the norm and he will eventually leave, so that he can fullfil hes talent.

    • ascherith

      i agreed, i’m not sure he is thinking about transfer market, juve just cleared about 1/3 the seasons.
      i think dybala real reasons is the number 33 player who making 2 goals from dybala positions and made 3 assists in his limited playing times, dybala probably know that he is more suitable playing as trequartista then him self.
      just wait for the coppa italy to start and if fede or bentancur play really good behind the solo striker, something big change will happenings. i believe the fiorentina and azzurini trequartista last season has something to suprise allegri if he got the chance to play in the center.

      • Mixalis Neskis

        So you are saying, he plays bad because he afraids of losing his place to Berna!?With Allegri even Madzu or Cuadrado do not lose their position to Berna or Cuadrado! Let alone Dybala! Dybala has one problem and one problem only, the style of play is to conservative for him! As we play, he has to get the ball just outside of our own goal and build up play from deep! Plus he and Higuain have to run and mark like crazy the whole time( we had matches where Dybala had the most tackles )! This wearers then off and they lose focus of their main responsibilities, which are to score goals and give assists! Now compare that to the defensive work the likes of CR, Suarez, Messi, Benzema, Neymar, Lewandowski do for their respective clubs, and you see why all those players score a lot more and are a lot more deciding to their clubs! There is a reason there are positions in football and if you combine the extra work on the pitch, with the brutal training regime, you have the reason why our offence fails to score as much as they could

    • It’s only a dip in form, I am sure he’ll be back on it soon, but one has to question why he has stalled all of a sudden. I’m not buying the fitness argument as we’re only in November. I do think he needs a rest though, if only from a mental point of view.

  • Juventino Persa

    I agree with Mixalis, there is no real problem with the players, not Higuain nor Dybala. Apart from a few players our squad is good (one great CM and RB would make us perfect, but that’s the whole another story)! And don’t worry Dybala is not leaving this summer and definitely not this winter. The point is Juve have not been playing great this season, even that Torino game was very normal until the red card, so believe me the main problem is:

    You can play one or two bad game and win, but you can’t keep playing bad and keep winning. The only sustainable way to win at the highest level (e.g. CL) is to play great, spectacular football. Juve is a fantastic machine which plays football for 20 minutes and then it shuts down. We struggle against likes of Benevento, Sporting, Genoa … It’s not about the number of goals, it’s about STYLE! Dybala will leave if we keep playing subpar to top clubs. At small club you want not to lose, at bigger clubs you play to win, then you have top clubs, where you have to win AND play great! If Juve want to keep top players, then they should play like a top clubs! I guess it was the great Gianni Agnelli who once said “I don’t care if you played well, I only care if you won”. Sorry but it’s time to change that motto, the same way we changed old logo and embraced new football!

    • ascherith

      there is no problems on RB as MDS already shown how efficient he played on that position. he is not a wing back like sandro, more closely to full back but he is not slack on defense and his great visions put him almost always on a good positioning like rugani.
      he doesn’t needs to running all the times and saving his stamina cleverly, his 2 crossed on benevento match also created matuidi assist. so a new RB will not necessary as long as MDS can keep out from injuries.
      the center midfielder also strong enough, adding more midfield mean we probably will loose bentancur or marchisio to transfer market. sturaro is important as he can play any positions in emergency. sami khedira is allegri number 2 golden boy. pjanic and matuidi is the first option anytime they are fit and i don’t know there are many midfielder can play as good as marchisio and bentancur has many promising qualities. if marotta want to replace them, he has to buy someone like kroos, pogba, de rossi, mascherano, buying a players with less quality then marchisio and bentancur will making just another thomas rincon story.

      • Xx RForcE xX

        De Rossi & Mascherano ?how can you compare these 2 to Pogba &Kroos?

    • I don’t think style has anything to do with winning. One of Allegri’s qualities is to get the team to grind out wins (as mentioned in my article), we do it well and it’s those 9 or 10 points a year which set us apart from the rest. Winning is what counts and it is that which ‘sells’ the club to new players.

      • Juventino Persa

        Nope my friends, here is the list of last 5 CL winners for consideration: Madrid, Madrid, Barca, Madrid, Bayern! That says something about style! Last world cup winners: Germany, Spain!

        Do you see the difference between these teams and “one time winners” in CL like Chelsea and Inter? One year after Chelsea and Inter won CL they were GONE! Barca, Bayern, Madrid are not gone! Even Italy the winner of 2006 WC, could not even get out of group stage in next 2 world cup and couldn’t get to the third one at all! Facts don’t lie:

        To win “continuously” in 21st century, there is no way but to play great football! Juve play great enough for serie a, but not for CL!

  • Donvincenzo

    I can speak from experience, if I had a poor game — unproductive, unimpressive, stale — and I got subbed off, I would thrown my shin guards, kick things, mutter some harsh words, but they definitely wouldn’t be aimed at my coach — they’d be aimed at myself. Once off the pitch, it’s when you can release the anger and disappointment you have for you own game, without looking like an idiot (Cuadrado). Who’s to say that isn’t what Paolo does? He’s just flat out frustrated with himself and his lack of impact on the game, that when he gets the opportunity to let it out, he throws a quick tantrum on the side. Childish? Maybe a bit, as that’s something I would’ve done in high school, but none the less that’s all it is. I can’t imagine he’s so selfish that he would get angry at being subbed off in a game where he’s been nothing more than a shadow. He’s just struggling with his game and with confidence (mostly because of those missed penalties), and the media is just taking Dybala’s frustration with himself and blowing it up into something that will draw the readers. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.

    • ascherith

      are u sure there is no shadow on his back? hahaha.
      his attitudes to not passed the ball to bernardeschi many times also probably the problems in his mind too.
      in the last games fede shaked his hand and asking why dybala don’t pass to him. its already getting bigger and more appearances from times to times.
      dybala also watched it closely how fede two goals created in the center (his position) in his limited playing times he also already making 3 assists.
      and he can play freely like a true trequartista moving side to side and arguably has more skills to dribbles the ball pass through the defenders wall.
      his face shown it all, he also more happy when cuadrado playing then fede.
      he know it well when allegri pull the trigger to try bernardeschi behind the striker it will be the end for his dominating that position.
      on the last match allegri already try bentancur and it is shown clearly that juve pace on attacking suddenly change completely.
      I’m not hating dybala or bashing on him but if we put our biased towards a certain players without evaluating that probably there is other options that can works better we just keep fooling our self.
      that big shadows already waiting for his chance, lets see how allegri reactions when he has the chances to experimenting on coppa, i’m sure today dybala struggled just a small problems on the surface.

  • ascherith

    the facts that everytime pjanic not presented in the field, juve got troubled for lacking creativity. the burden is on the attacking midfielder center to creates something and that’s why we called that person a trequartista.
    too bad so far dybala is playing more like a last man ball provider to the striker or a center forward or second striker more then a trequartista, his head not in the creating mode. he caught in the act always try to fired his powerful left drive every times he got the ball. he doesn’t paying attention to his team mates positions or try to dribbles the ball pass through the defender wall or moving wide side to side in order to distribute a better angle ball.
    juve’s attacking pattern only came from the 2 wings, 1 from the wing back alex sandro or cuadrado which is playing more likely in a DML position then normal winger mode due to allegri requirements for him to covered on his sides. atalanta and lazio (twice) have seen this as an easy strategy to stop. playing an old CB didn’t help too to stop immobile 100meter dash.
    the coach stubbornness to not trying to discovered the new man possibility also very frustrating. fede33 already played as trequartista in fiorentina, he playing a free roles and not tide up to specifics side, we can see how much it’s influenced fiorentina’s survival on seri A last season. but yet the coach keep pushing dybala on that specifics roles which is he already failed for nine games so far. i don’t know what the right terms to called that situation because for some it will turn to be like an insult.
    for today football matket no foreigner players intended to played for life in one club, it’s no secret that juve just a stepping stones for them. i don’t know why the board keep insisted to do their transfer strategies like this. they already missing vidal, pogba, alves, teves, moratta but keep hunting on spain or Germany players which is ironic if we watch how many young italian emerged for this past 2 years.
    from talented goal keeper like sportielo, meretz, strong defender like caldara, romagnoli, traditional full back like spinnazola, florenzi, MDS, matiello, conti, dependable DMC like mandragora, cristante, galiardini, creative midfielder like barella, pelegrini, skillful winger like fede, berardi, insigne, productive striker like belotti, immobile, etc. i don’t know why they have to keep shopping else where and try to promotes as iconic hero but can’t keep them long enough to produces consistency. just trying to hold dybala juve got to spend 7M, if they don’t want to lose sandro they have to cash more money for the wing back 5M? it’s contrary with chiellini who fought till bleeds his head so often, he only got 2M and no bonus for his head injuries. the loyal prince of turin also got only 2M.
    you can’t paid enough money for loyalty. and no matter how good or amazing dybala, for old school juventus fans will prefer an iconic true Italian players anytime because we know they will give it the best and staying for a long times without thinking real, barca, MU or etc.
    i wish allegri will try fede behind higuain, i’m sure it will unlocking another juventus level up. but this is the same allegri who lose at cardiff, probably he will not learn anything this times too…

  • Dar Black

    Will we ever learn? You do not sell your best players, ever. It’s not rocket science, it makes you weaker and your rivals stronger. Why would you do that? Keeping your team in continuous transition. No good has come of us selling our best in recent years. And swap PD for Sanchez? You are joking Dave please tell us….

    • Mixalis Neskis

      A sell is not on the paper! Marotta even found the 220M for Neymar a los for Barca! For Dybala to leave , it will take much more than money! I can only see it happening in a ridiculous player/s plus a few hundred million. Like ok, here 200m and Dembele for him, or the same amount plus Isco…anything less will not even make it to Morattas pffice

    • I only gave a hypothetical situation, for what it’s worth I don’t think we will sell him and wouldn’t want us to. As I mentioned in the article, I give these examples and talk about contentious issues to provoke discussion, otherwise my work would be considered safe and boring.

  • From Rabat

    Juve hast to look for new young progressing players especially in the defense because our defense is growing old and need to be changed.

    • Mixalis Neskis

      Rugani, Caldara, Bentancur, Spinazolla! We have young players! Next year none of the Barzagli and Benatia will be playing!

  • Jas

    There is absolutely no reason to sell Dybala, he is the face of the organization now. The kid is going to become a marketing powerhouse, the revenue he will generate will justify any future salary demands. At 23 he is probably top 10 players in the world so why on earth would they want to cash in on a player that hasn’t even hit his prime yet. Dybala can become this eras Del Piero, no reason to leave. Barcelona will never be the same after Messi leaves so if he doesn’t make the jump to join his idol now there will be no reason to join later.

    The team has very talented young players abroad: Caldara, Spinazzola, Tello, Favilli.

  • Jack Handey

    I for one won’t be the slightest bit surprised if Juve and Dybala part ways sooner than later. His comments always suggest he sees Juve as a stepping stone to something better. Although Juve propped him up as their leader by giving him the #10 shirt, he knows he can’t carry a team like the likes of Messi and Ronaldo can, and he probably doesn’t want that responsibility either. If Juve do end up selling him, they better extract Mbappe/Neymar money!

    • Dar Black

      ????? Hasn’t he just told Beppe to prepare a contract for life? Pretty sure that is in the works based on comments he made recently.

  • B1anconer0

    Lol they need to sack this provincial coach Ventura asap. Italy not qualifiying for the World cup is just fuckin unbelievable. Geez, If you can’t even score one goal in against Sweden. What an embarassement for Italian football.

  • E.Micallef

    T think Dybala problems are out of the pitch right now. Like Morata before him he needs guidance by father Buffon.

    Regarding Italy. I repeat again. We had 10 out of 11 in 2006 the other player being Nedved on the pitch in 2006 final. They deserve it for what they have done to us. I am no Italian. They spit upon Juventus and now look were they are as we are no longer giving so much to the national team. My only emotion was seeing big Gigi in tears. And I know this season the story will repeat itself shortly.

    Waiting for our next match have a good week