Juventus are set to usher in a new era up front after parting ways with the excellent Carlos Tevez, and first in line to assume his crown is new signing Paulo Dybala.
Signed for a princely sum of around €40 million, per ESPNFC, he faces the unenviable task of replicating what his fellow Argentine has done in Turin for the past two seasons. Indeed, despite Dybala's arrival and clear burgeoning talent, many believe letting Tevez leave this summer is a huge mistake on the part of the Bianconeri.
Tevez was the best player in Serie A last season; he managed 20 goals and seven assists from 29 starts, per WhoScored.com, and excelled in the UEFA Champions League, leading The Old Lady to the final in Berlin off the back of a further seven strikes.
To let him go back to Boca Juniors, whatever the price, is a nice sentimental gesture, but it's weakened the best forward line in the league. A rebuild must ensue, and the gauntlet appears to have been laid down at Dybala's feet.
Can the €40 million man keep Juve afloat at the top of the pile, achieving success akin to Tevez and spearheading another wildly successful season?
Dybala has drawn comparisons to some remarkably well-respected players, though that's mostly via the rather large mouth of his former president at Palermo, Maurizio Zamparini.
First and foremost, and before we even begin to delve into Dybala the footballer, the comparison to Aguero stacks up physically and athletically; it's easy to see why Zamparini is hauling superlatives out of the well for the benefit of his former charge.
At 5'9", Dybala stands an inch taller than both Tevez and Aguero, and he boasts the same stocky, low-to-the-ground frame. All three have superb core strength and low centres of gravity, capable of planting their feet and turning tightly, exploding into sprints and nipping around in tight spaces.
Dybala is aerially small and won't welcome cross-heavy situations, but has enough muscle to grind through duels and can certainly add to a well-proportioned frame. He also boasts bite and tenacity; Serie A defenders know he's not an easy one to knock off the ball.
His somatotype is perfect for the kind of player he is: a deep-lying forward or drop-in striker, looking to find space, turn and run.
2. Link Play
Dybala is a link forward, and a damn good one at that. You can draw comparisons between him and Tevez on nearly every level, be it physical, stylistic or even nationality-based. Losing Tevez is a blow for Juventus, but they literally could not have done a better job of finding a replacement for him—unless, of course, Sergio Aguero happened to hit the market.
The last half-decade has been particularly kind to The Old Lady, with Antonio Conte bringing them trophy-laden dominance domestically, then Massimiliano Allegri taking the project a step further and re-entering their name into the pantheon of European relevants.
That success has been predicated not only on the magisterial genius of Andrea Pirlo in a deep, creative role, but also a link forward capable of adding a more direct dimension to Juve's play. You can go back to Mirko Vucinic under Conte, or flick forward to Tevez under Allegri to appreciate how the club have successfully used this type of player.
Dybala is that player, and the Juve system will suit him down to the ground. He'll be able to replicate what Tevez did at Signal Iduna Park last season on the way to the Champions League, dropping in off the front line to collect passes, turn and push on.
The Argentine can filter back from the No. 9 role and lurk, waiting for clearances from deep to latch onto. He gets his body in between ball and marker, twists low and surges forward. His agility, quickness and top-end speed are all superb, and he fights for every yard by aggressively warding off markers.
His distribution and decision-making, even on the run, are at a high level already; his chance creation for teammates throughout the 2014-15 season reached prolific, playmaker-esque levels at times.
Dribbling and ball control is one of Dybala's key assets; he buys himself time to think and to play by weaving around to find openings and angles that suit his needs. He also finds passes he otherwise wouldn't by flummoxing defenders and beating them one vs. one.
Take this outrageous example from 2014-15 against Sassuolo as a marker:
By the end of this game, The Neroverdi were attempting to spear-tackle Dybala to the ground, such were their frustrations with his ability to evade their grasp. He continually slipped in and out of pockets, danced between challenges and ducked heavier attempts to haul him down.
He's as capable dribbling outside as inside, using that good pace to knock the ball ahead of or around his man. He jinks inside or explodes over the top; either is an effective route to goal in his mind.
In 2014-15 he represented a dribbling monster, attempting 12.1 dribbles per game and managing a remarkable 47.4 percent success rate, per Sportsmatrix. He was significantly more efficient than Zaza, about as good as Tevez and just slightly behind the brilliant Felipe Anderson.
4. Through Balls
We have touched briefly on his passing, commending its quality. Short-to-medium range is strong and concise, and he posted an 81.6 percent completion percentage in Serie A last season, per WhoScored.com—not bad for a player who rarely makes any passes without pressure.
But one of the most eye-popping parts of Dybala's game is his through ball, leading to overall chance creation. He's able to drop off the front line, collect, turn and go, but he's also able to spot early passes and thread them through without fuss.
The weight on some of his threaded passes is simply sublime; he lays it perfectly into the path of on-rushing wingers and runners, releasing them into the space he only recently vacated. In a way, he's showing false-nine tendencies even at 21 years of age—a remarkable feat.
It must be said, that in playing for a weaker side in Palermo, he didn't always make the quick decision and lay it off; sometimes, he simply kept it and opted to dribble, perhaps not trusting his team-mates. Still, according to Sportsmatrix, he averaged an attempted 7.2 chances created per game—level with Tevez (7.2), just behind Felipe Anderson (8.6) and far, far ahead of fellow Juve inductee Simone Zaza (3.3); it can't be said that he's a greedy player (above image).
Having a multi-faceted game as a link forward is key, and remaining unpredictable is paramount to success. In averaging high numbers in both dribbles and through balls, and in retaining the willingness to run in behind, Dybala has his marker on the back foot every time.
5. Channel Runs
It can't all be about Dybala with the ball at his feet; to be worth €40 million to a club, the off-the-ball work needs to stack up too.
Granted, at Palermo he was the main man. Only fellow countryman Franco Vazquez helped to shoulder the offensive load, managing three less Serie A goals than Dybala (10) but just as many assists (10), per WhoScored.com. That means Dybala is seeing lots of the ball as his team seeks him out; his chances to show off-the-ball intelligence are more limited than most young forwards coming through.
That said, one aspect that did impress was his understanding of how to stretch the pitch. Many players of his ilk are guilty of shrinking the area in which they can play subconsciously by drifting and dropping inward and never gambling with runs; Dybala, on the other hand, varies his patterns and stretches the pitch vertically for himself and others.
Notably, his channel-running is strong. He flexes forward to push his marker backward, then drops back in to receive the pass in the space he's created. Next he'll actually run in beyond, asking for a threaded passes, tangling the defender's legs and laying the foundations for a difficult afternoon.
He has the requisite speed to trouble in the channels even when he's not bluffing, and favours the right-hand side, sitting on the shoulder of the left-sided centre-back. It allows him to cut inside on his favoured left foot and bear down on goal.
Dybala's a very one-footed finisher, favouring his left side. It hasn't necessarily been a problem for him so far, but he does visibly contort his body to squeeze his left foot over the ball to finish wherever possible.
His goal tally—13 for the league season—is inflated somewhat by his set-piece ability; he takes goal-range free-kicks (superbly, might we add) and penalties, so we have to delve a little deeper into his film to assess his true prowess in front of goal.
The results suggest a ridiculously cool finisher—provided it falls to his left boot. He sweeps home with ease, pauses and forces the goalkeeper to make mistakes before he buries balls and can score beauties from range, too. His technique when contacting the ball is consistently excellent, boasting that enviable lazy strike that seems to just stroke it home on a whim.
He's far from perfect—his shot:goal ratio is a measly 9:1—and he's not afraid to take on the ambitious attempt from the angle—sometimes to a fault. But what Dybala is is a very natural striker of the ball with the self-confidence to match his ability; at 21 years of age, that clinical edge has time to develop.
Juventus have decided to entirely overhaul their striking corps this summer, signing no less than three players (Dybala, Zaza and Mario Mandzukic) to complement Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Morata. The depth of the position gives Massimiliano Allegri options, but also relieves pressure on those with big expectations surrounding them.
Dybala is not a shy man and likely won't shrink under pressure, but Juventus' tactic in replacing Tevez with him and Zaza, while expensive, should bear fruit. Llorente could well depart, but Mandzukic is the replacement for the big man and will open the possibility of another big man-small man combination.
Dybala has all of the requisite instincts and abilities to emulate Tevez for Juventus, and the club will hope he grows into that prominent role within the next two years. His raw ability is unrivalled by most in the sport, and should he work the few kinks out of his still-inexperienced game, there's no stopping him.
With the passing of the torch at Juve, from Tevez to Dybala, comes perhaps an interesting situation on the international scale too. How long will it be before Argentina opt to cap and trial the latter, perhaps even pushing the former out of the picture in the process?
2015-16 will be huge for Dybala from a domestic, continental and international perspective. He's a burgeoning Serie A talent just waiting to be let loose on the bigger stage, and he stands to taste, at the very least, a first European adventure, awarding him the chance to etch his name across the minds of those yet to realise his majesty.