On Wednesday night, Juventus bid their European campaign farewell as they crashed out of the Champions League round of 16 at the hands of Villarreal.
For Bianconeri supporters, the sight was almost a déjà vu. After all, that was the club’s third straight elimination from the very same stage of the competition.
Perhaps the final score was even more miserable this time, the manager on the dugout was also a different one (yet again), and surely the formation included a mixture between old and new faces.
And yet, some things remained the same.
For one, Juventus were knocked out from the competition despite receiving a favorable draw on paper (Lyon and Porto would surely ring a bell).
And on another note, Paulo Dybala was nowhere to be seen… at least until the final minutes, making his entrance at a time when the cause was already lost.
In 2020, the Argentine played the first leg against Lyon prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. But in the second leg in August, he entered as a second half substitute only to leave the pitch 14 minutes later with an injury.
Last year, the striker didn’t feature for a single minute in the double-header against Porto amidst a campaign plagued with recurring injuries.
This time around, La Joya was once again unavailable ahead of the first leg away to Villarreal, and his condition only allowed him to feature for a short cameo in the return leg.
So as one would notice, Dybala has been repeatedly absent (or at the very least not fully fit) throughout the Old Lady’s crucial European fixtures from the last three seasons.
Therefore, one would wonder if the final outcome would have differed with the number 10 on the pitch and fully fit.
That is of course a fair question. After all, the Argentina international is one of the most talented stars of his generation. And with Juventus lacking creativity in the middle of the park, his presence becomes even more essential for the manager’s tactical scheme.
During his absence, the Bianconeri appear to be a team short of ideas, desperately searching for inspiration. In this regard, Wednesday’s result once again highlighted Dybala’s major importance for the team.
But on the flip side, the player’s absence once again proved that building a team around him would be foolish at this point.
Yes, the man has all the talent and flair in the world. But how can we build a team around a player who was unable to start three crucial European fixtures which culminated in three European heartbreaks?
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Dybala should be shown the door once his contract expires at the end of the campaign, as he remains a player that can always play a significant role for the squad.
However, now it’s time for the 28-year-old to have a reduced role in Turin, with younger players bolstering the striking and midfield department and taking the creativity burden off his shoulders.
But in order to do so, the hierarchy might have to reduce the striker’s wages (as they were already planning to do), or at least linking it to his number of appearances and goal contribution, because truth to be told, we can longer afford to have him at the very center of the project.