22nd April 2016. By Karl Matchett.
Juventus are on course to record a fifth successive Italian Serie A championship, needing just one more win from their final four games to all but mathematically secure what will go down as a memorable comeback triumph.
Serie A rulings dictate that head-to-head, then goal difference, separates teams on the same amount of points, so Juve can't quite wrap up their latest Scudetto away to Fiorentina on Saturday-although they could then be crowned champions if Napoli fail to beat AS Roma a day later, or indeed do not win every game they have left this season while Juventus continually drop points. All told, it's a sure thing that the bianconeri will be celebrating once more come the end of the season, especially should they go on to beat AC Milan and retain the Coppa Italia as well to complete another domestic double.
Given the shoddy start to the season that Juventus endured, winning just one of their opening six games, to fight back and win the title shows not just technical and tactical quality on the part of Juventus and their head coach, but also the great mental resilience and self-belief within the squad.
World Cup winners and potential greats litter the squad, and many will be once again linked with big-money moves to other top clubs around Europe this summer, particularly French midfielder Paul Pogba. It's inevitable that the powerhouse midfielder will eventually move on, quite possibly for a world record fee when he does depart Turin, but for next term and the mid-term beyond, it's another player who is more important for Juve to keep hold of: Paulo Dybala.
The Argentine forward has been outrageously good at times this season, a rare blend of both link player and focal point for the attack in a two-man front line. While his first touch and ability to strike the ball are unquestioned, it is Dybala's vision and use of space, which has really marked him out as a top talent over the course of the season.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's also perhaps alongside Willian, Hakan Calhanoglu and Dimitri Payet as one of the most dangerous set-piece takers in Europe this year.
Juve's front line may see some change again this summer; Simone Zaza has been linked with a move away due to low game time, while Alvaro Morata's future is still in the balance thanks to Real Madrid's first option to sign him back...and potentially sell him on again. With a number of changes already likely to be ongoing, Juve won't want to offload the most dangerous and consistent part of their front line, even though Dybala would likely fetch upward of €50 million in the transfer market-already a healthy profit on what they paid for him a year ago.
Aged only 22, Dybala has plenty of growth left in his game both on a tactical level and on his end product. As decision making improves, so too will his composure, his reliability in front of goal and his strike rate. It seems disconcerting that despite being one of the finest young attackers on the Continent this season, Dybala has still yet to really get a look-in with the Argentine national team. Then again, with Kun Aguero, Leo Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi all still having been regulars, there isn't too much room for manoeuvre, though Dybala might feel he has done more than Angel Correa to earn involvement.
Dybala links Juve's middle and final thirds together with great intelligence and awareness, and joins up from deep to attack the box rather than acting only as a playmaker outside. His goals, his youth and his movement all make him a troublesome opponent to face and he would be extremely difficult for Juventus to replace at this point.
Pogba, of course, is another top-tier talent. He is already among the most influential midfielders in Europe and there are few sides who would not alter their set-up to accommodate him and build around, but he's also a more replaceable asset for Juventus than Dybala is. Perhaps not to the level that Pogba attains during the season, but certainly in terms of replicating his role in the team: the surging midfielder who can break lines with runs off the ball or passes in possession, a powerful presence entering the final third and a creative option to boot.
Naturally, the preference for Juve is to retain both players. With the European Championships and the Copa America to take place this summer, it's a possibility; there won't be an awfully long time after the summer tournaments end to sort out transfers and replacements and neither seem to be in a huge hurry to depart Serie A. That said, an impending transfer ban for Real Madrid could complicate matters in a hurry.
If Juve are forced to decide, they'd be better off taking a colossal fee for Pogba this summer and building the midfield to continue feeding Dybala as he improves in attack, a forward capable of helping them to European titles in future as well as continued domestic dominance-and a player who could, in time, be worth as much or more as Pogba himself in the open market when it comes time for him to move on.
Retaining Paulo Dybala more integral to Juventus' future success than Paul Pogba
22nd April 2016. By Karl Matchett.