With Juventus entering a crucial stretch in their season, Massimiliano Allegri must put aside his differences with Paulo Dybala and find a place for him in his lineup. Immediately.
When the bianconeri took on Parma last weekend, La Joya was left on the bench and stormed off in frustration after Allegri used his third and final substitute. The former Palermo man has since apologized for his outburst and was constrained to the sidelines once more in Juventus’ most recent win against Sassuolo, coming on in the 83rd minute.
This season, Dybala has seen a change in his role and has typically operated from deeper, as per Allegri’s instructions. The Juventus tactician even went so far as to dub him a “box-to-box” midfielder in a press-conference earlier this season. Adapting to a completely new role, Dybala has experienced some growing pains and has struggled to influence games from the midfield.
All too often, the 25-year-old wanders wide in hopes of carving out space for himself. What this leads to, however, is Dybala getting less touches near the opposition’s goal and far less chances to use his creativity to dictate play.
With Ronaldo occupying the sole striker position, it doesn’t leave much room for the Argentine international in the final third. Factor in Mario Mandzukic’s importance and ability to combine with the former Real Madrid star, and you quickly realize Dybala is an awkward fit in Allegri’s current setup. While the obvious solution would be to field Dybala behind Mandzukic and Ronaldo, it would take away from the Croatian’s aerial threat – something Juventus could ill afford.
Since being fielded on the left wing, Mandzukic has been able to bully the opposition’s fullback and take advantage of the notable height difference to head home crucial goals. Fielding him centrally again would make the former Bayern Munich man face off in the air against centre-backs and would reduce his aerial presence. This season, Mandzukic has been immense for the bianconeri and has established himself as their big-game player, scoring against Napoli, Inter, Milan, Roma and Lazio. Moving him positions at this point in the season would not only be detrimental to his game, but to Juventus’ overall play. So where does all this leave Dybala?
Over the course of his career, the Juventus playmaker has been at his most dangerous playing behind a striker as a trequartista. In this role, he’s capable of playing between the opposition’s lines and play off his teammate. Last year, Dybala scored 22 goals in league play when playing alongside Higuain – something that Allegri should not banish from his memory just yet.
While Mandzukic’s good form poses Allegri a dilemma and a rather obvious tactical headache, it nonetheless remains a positive problem. Against Atletico Madrid, the former Milan tactician would be wise to field Dybala behind Ronaldo with Mandzukic at left midfield in a 4-4-1-1 of sorts. The Croatian, outside of his lapse in concentration against Parma, has proven to be defensively responsible and could more than hold his own on the left in big games.
This would not only keep Mandzukic attacking the back post when in possession, but would finally allow Dybala to operate from his preferred role again. Juventus fans got a glimpse of La Joya’s best form against BSC Young Boys in their first clash, when he was fielded up top in a 3-5-2. In an advanced role, the Argentine was a constant threat and bagged a hat-trick with ease.
This 4-4-1-1 would make the most of the offensive tools at Allegri’s disposal and would not compromise defensive solidity. For added support, Allegri could even field high-flying fullback Joao Cancelo at right midfield and Mattia De Sciglio at right back to ensure his side maintain shape. The Portuguese defender has proven more than capable in a wide midfield role and would undoubtedly supply a plethora of dangerous crosses – leaving Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi on the bench as valuable super-subs.
With just over a week left before Juventus take on Atletico Madrid, Allegri doesn’t have much time to get it right and will need Dybala at his best if the bianconeri are to progress. While the Juventus tactician hasn’t shied away from tough choices in European clashes in the past, Allegri must make amends with Dybala immediately and abandon this ‘box-to-box’ experiment. After all, his future might depend on it.
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