Paulo Dybala has been linked with a transfer to Manchester United following some excellent performances for Juventus . In the midst of these rumours, talkSPORT.com cast an eye over the forward’s performance against Tottenham in the Champions League round-of-16.
Spurs completely suffocated Juventus in the opening period, with the ball rarely finding its way to Dybala and his attacking partner Gonzalo Higuain . The pair had hardly any possession, and thus made little impact on the match.
Evidently, Dybala had been urged to stay high up the pitch, as although he is a talented playmaker, he consistently refused to drop into Juve’s midfield to offer an extra man. This meant Spurs found it easy to marshal Dybala in their third, while it also resulted in the Lilywhites dominating the midfield because of their spare man
The game followed the same pattern for the opening 20 minutes of the second period, though Dybala did attempt his first shot at the Tottenham goal; it was a wild first-time attempt that was both high and wide.
However, Stephan Lichtsteiner’s introduction in the 67th minute changed the game - and Dybala was the player to benefit.
Juve swapped from a back-three to a back-four, which meant they pushed an extra man forward out of the defence, thus resulting in a new-found victory in the midfield battle. With possession guaranteed, Dybala was afforded the freedom to drop deeper and link up play between the midfield and final thirds; he started to pop up all over the pitch, and was even seen winning the ball just ahead of Juve’s backline.
The Italians’ opening goal came from Dybala making the most of his new free role.
He picked up possession midway through Spurs’ half, far over on the right side of the pitch. After ambling towards Tottenham’s area, Dybala played a perfectly weighted ball to Lichtsteiner, whose cross was flicked on by Sami Khedira for Higuain to prod home from a yard out.
Just a few minutes later, Dybala turned from playmaker to goalscorer, proving he can lead the line as well as Europe’s best attackers.
Higuain got free of Davinson Sanchez inside the centre circle, and, even while he was facing his own goal midway through the slowest turn seen in elite football , Dybala started making his move.
He was in space in the left channel, but suddenly made a darting run between Kieran Trippier and Jan Vertonghen which caught the Tottenham pair unawares. Played onside by a woefully out of position Ben Davies , Dybala was already a couple of yards clear of Trippier and Vertonghen by the time Higuain’s pass cut through the pair and fell perfectly in Dybala’s path.
He used his pace to further increase the gap between him and Vertonghen - Trippier stopped running far too quickly after Dybala claimed possession - before firing a powerful strike into the top corner of Hugo Lloris’ net.
Dybala sees Lloris' early movement and places his finish in the opposite direction, making it all but impossible for the keeper to reach the shot
The sign of a good goalscorer is the ability to react to a goalkeeper’s movements, and Dybala did just that.
As he edges closer to the area, Lloris starts to run out and he crouches before the shot is taken. This creates a huge target in the upper part of the goal for Dybala to aim at, and he does just that; the ball has flown past Lloris before he manages to raise his hands to the shot, which was directed where Lloris’ body had been just moments previously.
With Juventus in the lead and progressing to the quarter-finals, Dybala took on a more reserved role.
However, it was a tactically reserved role, rather than one forced on him due to Spurs’ dominance, as in the first-half.
He held up the ball and did not look to attack simply for the sake of attacking; this approach to managing the game meant Juve did not stupidly cede possession, thus giving the ball to a Spurs side chasing a vital goal.
In the end, this approach meant Spurs could not score the goal they needed to take the tie to extra-time.
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Dybala’s first-half performance would not have earned him any admirers, but his showing after the break was nigh on perfect.
He was both playmaker and goalscorer, and the 24-year-old showed an experience and match understanding of a far older player.
It may have been Massimiliano Allegri’s tactical change - moving from a back-three to a back-four - that got Dybala into the game, but the Argentine made the most of his new-found influence to guide Juventus to a momentous victory.