It might sound like a classic Glazers’ and Ed Woodward move, but Paulo Dybala now seems close to joining Manchester United in a possible swap deal with Juventus for Romelu Lukaku.
Moves like these are exactly what the Glazers’ need to calm the raging storms about their ownership and the move for La Joya will go a long way in doing just that. It gets the attention back at United. Gets shirt sales going when the fans were considering a protest and merchandise boycott. It gets them social media revenues and retweets. It has all the makings of a classic Glazers’ move to bring in temporary contentment.
But it might be more than that. Sure, Dybala will feed the Glazers’ pockets with more money and give them exactly what they need to get everyone back on their side. But the Argentine is someone United can make do with, considering where things are currently.
The pre-season friendlies clearly showed that Ole Solskjaer will take this team forward into a side that plays attractive football, presses high up the pitch and is fluid in nature. But multiple times, United struggled to break defences down when the opposition sat deeper and kept men behind the ball.
With Paul Pogba deeper alongside Nemanja Matic, United lacked the spark in the final third to set themselves through. Precisely why they scored only once against Kristiansund despite playing some really good football. Even last season, this problem was imminent. Especially under Solskjaer. Despite not having played too bad at all against Barcelona, United failed to create clear openings and lost 1-0 at Old Trafford.
READ MORE: Respected Belgian journalist provides update on potential Lukaku-Dybala swap; explains striker’s situation with Inter
Against Manchester City at home, United had a good first half. But failed to carve enough chances despite having some momentum before it fell apart in the second half. Even against Arsenal at the Emirates, similar was the case sometimes.
Jesse Lingard is usually the man to play right behind the striker. He has a very good work-rate and has the intelligent movement to drag defences open. And he does a very good job at that. Those abilities of his have helped United many times over the last three seasons.
But Lingard isn’t a prolific goalscorer or a consistent assister. He isn’t someone who can find a pass through a crowded backline. United haven’t really had a proper number ten for a long while. Juan Mata was one. But he was played in wide areas more often than not. Shinji Kagawa was one, but he was also pushed wide left and he failed. Angel di Maria was one.
Mata in his prime would be perfect for United, but sadly he’s still the best option available and is well past his best. There’s a lot of talk about Bruno Fernandes coming in and his goal contribution tally last season speaks volumes, but @ManUtd are taking their time.
— Dale O’Donnell (@ODonnellDale) July 20, 2019
If United don’t make the same mistake with Dybala, the Argentine can work wonders if no off-field issues come up. Because United haven’t had a proper winger since Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young before they peaked to play full-back positions or derailed due to injuries. That shouldn’t influence the club too much into playing Dybala in a wide position.
Although it isn’t an unnatural position, but Dybala has always been better playing inside. At Juventus last season, Dybala had a horror time playing in a rickety and defensive system around aging players under Max Allegri. The burden of adding pace to the attack in a defensive system was all on him. He had to hug the touchline more often than not since Allegri wanted it to the structured system like José Mourinho would want.
It was aimed at achieving Champions League or Serie A success through playing pragmatic football. But the football played was dour, defensive and the fans grew frustrated. Some even didn’t know how Juve scored goals last season. Dybala became a sad victim of that brand of football and the situation that took focus away from him to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Before Ronaldo had arrived, it was about Dybala even though Gonzalo Higuain was in the side. Although the arrival of El Pipita did hamper La Joya in the 2016-17 season, but he used that as a means of getting to play behind him in a 4-2-3-1 shape. In the 2017-18 season, Dybala scored 22 times in the Serie A, scoring eight times in the first four games. That included hat-tricks against Sassuolo and Genoa.
Before Higuain’s arrival, Dybala had enjoyed himself playing alongside Alvaro Morata predominantly. He played in a 3-5-2 shape under a more cohesive system than the one in place last season. He had a technical midfielder in Paul Pogba to feed him and their partnership kept Juve ticking. Dybala scored 19 times that season- his first season at Juventus.
Going back to his Palermo days, the controversial Maurizio Zamparini called him ‘the next Sergio Aguero’ for reasons no one has figured out yet. But Dybala was used as a regular centre-forward in a 3-5-2 shape by almost all the managers that came along during the three-year period from 2012 to 2015. He formed a rather feared pairing with the influential Franco Vazquez his tally only increased over the passage of time.
In his first season at the Le Aquile, Dybala only scored thrice and broke into the first-team around mid-season. The second season, he often played as a sole striker in a 4-3-3 shape and sometimes played alongside Kyle Lafferty and Vazquez in a 3-5-2 in the Serie B. He scored five times and assisted six times that season.
But it was the next season that proved to be a breakout one for Dybala. Playing beside Vazquez, he scored 13 times and assisted 10 times. It is crucial to note that Vazquez isn’t a target man-esque striker either.
It is clear what Dybala’s favoured position is and it is something that United need currently. But it won’t be a surprise to see him often operating on the right, considering Solskjaer is likely to play a fluid system that will not force Dybala to hug the touchline and be forced to look out of depth. He will have the license to create and make an impact by being involved centrally. The partnership on and off the pitch with Pogba will surely have a key role to play too.
And it will convince Pogba into staying at United longer. The Frenchman is still pretty much best friends with La Joya and one reason why he was keen on leaving United was the lack of quality players. Dybala will match his level of expectation.
Where will that leave Bruno Fernandes’ possible move? No one can tell that. Because Fernandes would have fit right into the number ten position. But Dybala brings more flexibility across the front line and Solskjaer will be tempted to use him as a false nine. That will work very well too and it will also bring the best out of talents like Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Lingard and Alexis Sanchez.
There are sure to be concerns about Dybala’s physical abilities to fit into the Premier League and they might crop up in the beginning. But Manchester City don’t have too much physicality in their team. Their side revolves around technical ability and intelligent movement. Solskjaer’s United will rely on pace, work-rate and intelligence. Dybala will be key to making it work.
There will also be concerns that Dybala, too many, is reminiscent of Di Maria. And it might be a strange coincidence, but Dybala was in talks with Paris Saint-Germain in the winter of 2018 (via The Express) and Allegri had dropped him for some games around that period. Dybala had changed his agent and his brother had taken over him. While some image rights issues were also behind him not playing, but PSG were in talks with Dybala at that point.
But if United can keep him happy, he will love it. The system favours him. The players around him will bring the best out of him and he will make the system work better. More than that, he will be the central point of it. Something he is almost dying to be because of how he was overshadowed last season.
And he has some fire in him too. He never gives up. His trademark goal celebration is a reflection of his personality.
In an interview that Dybala’s biographer Marcos Villalobo gave to BBC, he revealed more about his celebration and his nickname.
He said, as per Calciomercato: “As a fan of the movie ‘The Gladiator’, Paulo decided to wear Maximus’ mask, to prove himself that he is a warrior, one who never gives up.
“The nickname La Joya? Dybala was the rough diamond of the youth team at Instituto. The first time I mentioned this nickname, he laughed and said that he liked it.”