“He will become like Messi,” declared the Corriere dello Sport after Paulo Dybala produced another virtuoso performance to help Juventus record a tenth consecutive Serie A victory on Sunday. A devilishly whipped free kick courtesy of his wand-like left foot, an emphatically struck penalty and a couple of assists all before the referee had even blown for half-time had left Udinese shell-shocked and provided only further proof that the Bianconeri’s fifth title defence was very much on. The early season gloom has shifted in Turin and aside from scudetto talk, supporters of the Old Lady can gloat over what appears to be a €32 million summer bargain.
Such a bold conclusion can be made of very few similarly exorbitant transfer fees and when Juve slumped to a fourth league defeat from their opening ten Serie A fixtures against comparative minnows Sassuolo in October not only did the scudetto look a long way off but the losses of Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal appeared fatal.
Up until this point, Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri had used Dybala rather sparingly despite the expense and, while the Italian coach rationalised this with talk of easing in the 22-year-old and the need for ‘growth,’ many supporters were growing impatient. Outspoken Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini, who brought Dybala to Italian football from Instituto in 2012, went one further in his vitriolic attack on Allegri: “Allegri is on track to ruin Dybala. Dybala is football, but Allegri is not. Dybala should be given freedom to roam from the right wing and do his own thing, just like Lionel Messi.”
The word of the often maniacal Zamparini is perhaps to be taken with a shovelful of salt but the fact remained that Juventus’ attack was faltering. Without the impact of Tevez, Pirlo, Vidal and Fernando Llorente, who together had contributed more than half of Juve’s goals in the previous season, the Bianconeri had hit the net only 12 times in the opening ten fixtures – an average of just 1.2 goals per game.
The improvement since that defeat to Sassuolo is startling and although there are other factors, such as Paul Pogba rediscovering his best form, central to the revitalised Juve has been Dybala. 26 goals from the next ten victories has seen the average goals per game shoot up to 2.6 as Allegri’s scudetto holders have closed to within two points of the Seria A summit and Dybala’s personal statistics are no less impressive. In his last nine outings, La Joya has scored seven and created five, taking his overall tally to eleven goals and seven assists and, while his goalscoring record is exactly the same as Tevez after 20 matches, Dybala’s role as creator is even more pronounced.
7 – Paulo Dybala has either scored or assisted 7 of Juventus’s 9 Serie A goals in 2016 (3 goals, 4 assists). Pearl.
— OptaJavier (@OptaJavier) January 17, 2016