Paul Pogba may have problems at Manchester United. The Frenchman continues to perform respectably on the pitch but there seems to be a growing acceptance that his days at Old Trafford are numbered.
According to various reports, they are numbered because of Jose Mourinho. Yet while the World Cup winner’s future remains uncertain, at least he is playing football. That is more than can be said of Paulo Dybala, who isn’t even featuring for Juventus at the moment.
The Argentine playmaker’s travails in Turin have led to various news outlets claiming that a sensational Pogba-Paulo swap deal. It is certainly not beyond comprehension.
So our friends at Football Whispers look at what Dybala would bring to United should he trade places with Pogba.
According to Maurizio Zamparini, the president of Palermo – for whom Dybala played before joining Italian football’s Old Lady – Dybala will leave the Serie A champions in January, with offers from England and Spain on the table.
The Bianconeri’s No.10 has found starts hard to come by of late. Having featured in just 22 minutes of Argentina’s disastrous World Cup campaign, the 24-year-old also finds himself out of favour under Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri.
He started – and finished – Juve’s Serie A opening victory against Chievo Verona but was an unused substitute a week later against Lazio, with Allegri switching to a 4-3-3 system that saw Cristiano Ronaldo flanked by Federico Bernadeschi and Mario Mandzukic up top ahead of a triumvirate in midfield comprised of Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi.
Allegri stuck with that shape for the trip to Parma and, while Dybala was summoned for the final ten minutes of the game, it’s clear that all is not well between coach and player, between whom there has been friction in the past.
In January last year, Dybala caused a media maelstrom when he refused Allegri’s handshake after being subbed off during a win over Sassuolo.
The Juve boss was quick to brush over the incident but their past disharmony mirrors the fractious Mourinho/Pogba dynamic at United.
At the end of last season, Allegri said: “I spoke to him before the holidays and his goal is to play another great season with us and then go to a great team to improve. If you play at Juventus you have three chances: Real, Barça or Bayern.”
It seems Dybala’s path is set. Where that leads, however, will almost certainly be the subject of intense speculation as soon as the January transfer window opens.
Make no mistake; should La Joya (the Jewel) join United, the Red Devils would be getting a truly phenomenal talent.
Dybala signed for Juventus in 2014. Precocious, mercurial, gifted; he was a player of exhilarating promise, reflected in the fact that the £40m Juve paid Palermo for him in 2015 was the most the club had forked out on a player after Calciopoli.
And while Dybala has spent time out of the team, time struggling for form and time at the centre of transfer speculation, he has mostly served as Juve’s joyous bundle of creativity.
In his three years at Juve, Dybala has scored 68 goals and contributed 21 assists in 142 games. Since August 2016, he’s averaged 3.18 successful take-ons per 90, which ranks him fifth in Serie A over that time period, while his goals-xG ratio stands at a mightily impressive 2.64, ranking him second in his position.
Dybala is renowned for his shooting ability. Pogba’s nickname for him at Juve was ‘Square R2’ after the turn-and-shot combo on FIFA video games. Indeed, Dybala’s post-shot xG, a model which measures the placement of shots, is 1.36, meaning he regularly improves his xG with accurate shots.
Dybala is an astute technician in tight areas, often eluding defenders and fashioning a chance when he seems outnumbered, a trait which makes him a nightmare to defend against.
Intriguingly, Dybala played some of his best football at Juve when Pogba was also in the team. That season, Dybala operated just behind the main striker, Alvaro Morata, but comfortably outscored the Spaniard with 19 goals to 7.
Throughout his career, Dybala has fulfilled a number of roles, from being the out-and-out striker to being the ‘enganche,’ the playmaking link between the midfield and attack, which makes him an attractive proposition to potential suitors.
His ability to operate effectively in a 4-2-3-1 may entice Mourinho, who could conceivably deploy Dybala behind Romelu Lukaku with Alexis Sanchez on one flank and one of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial or Juan Mata on the other.
Dybala is a spectacular playmaker, but also a matchwinner. His two goals helped knock Barcelona out of the Champions League quarter-final in 2017 and last season, he was decisive in ending Tottenham’s European dream, scoring the winner in the last-16 second leg at Wembley.
While the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona may offer stiff competition for Dybala’s signature, if United are to lose Pogba, they would need to replace the Frenchman with a player of immense ability. Dybala is that player and, while his transfer would require another significant sum of money, he has the tools to light up the Red Devils.
* Odds subject to change
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by Tom Bodell