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Dialing In Our Dybala Expectations With BWRAO

Dybala is a world-class talent, but what exactly should Roma fans expect from him in year one? To answer that, we turned to our friends and Black, White & Read All Over.

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Any time the Romaverse collides with the... umm... Juventus Supernova (the JuveNova?), we reach out to our pals at Black, White & Read All Over for their insight on the Old Lady of Italian Football. From match previews to transfer rumors and everything in between, Danny has always been generous with his time, providing wit, wisdom, and whimsy to everything Juventus.

But we never imagined this. After Roma's shock signing of former Juventus maestro Paulo Dybala, we had to turn to Danny to help us set expectations for Roma's once-in-a-generation signing. We have an inkling of what Dybala can do on the pitch, but who better to turn to than the man who covered La Joya for BWRAO since his mega-money move from Palermo in 2015?

We’ll start with the obvious question: Why is Paulo Dybala no longer a Juventus player? Why did that seemingly perfect marriage fall apart?

BWRAO: I’m guessing the answer to this question would depend on which side of the split that you ask. It was not a good breakup by any means, and that pretty much has to do with what has transpired over the last couple of years.

Let’s start with what we know: Dybala wanted a new contract and just before Halloween 2021, it looked like that was going to happen after what felt like a year and a half of negotiations. Dybala was going to get the salary he wanted (or close to it) and Juventus locked in its No. 10 to a new long-term deal following months of trying to find an agreement. But then the chance to sign Dusan Vlahovic seemingly changed everything. We kept waiting and waiting for a Dybala announcement — seriously, I’ve probably still got the pre-written BWRAO post in the archives somewhere — but Vlahovic’s arrival, in hindsight, signaled the change from Juve having La Joya at the center of its project to Vlahovic being that guy.

Surely the concerns about Dybala’s durability and his overall form the last few years as well as his fit into what Max Allegri wants to do going forward played a role into all of this. And Juve committing that kind of money to an oft-injured Dybala certainly wasn’t going to be the best way to use those resources. It was just a long, drawn-out process that had a lot of twists along the way ending in a separation that a lot of us didn’t think was possible this time last year.

For the Roma fans who watched from afar–or were simply teeming with jealousy and couldn’t bear to tune in–what sort of player are the Giallorossi getting in Dybala?

BWRAO: They’re getting a player who is very much at the tipping point in his career. He can arrive at Roma with a major chip on his shoulder and really play like the guy who was scoring a bunch of goals during the first half of his time with Juventus. Or, if things go the like they did under Maurizio Sarri, Andrea Pirlo and then Max Allegri 2.0, then he’s going to be in and out of the lineup due to injury and you’re going to see that skill in small handfuls before seeing him miss time again with muscle injuries.

That’s kind of just what the reality was with Dybala the last few years. By all accounts, he looks like he’s in great shape as he begins this new Roma adventure. But there’s always going to be the lingering cloud of his fitness issues post-lockdown no matter what form he’s in.

Going along with that, what sort of tactical setup best suits his talents? What kind of players does he need alongside him to excel?

BWRAO: If Nico Zaniolo does stay in Rome this summer, I truly think something of a Christmas tree setup with Zaniolo and Dybala playing behind Tammy Abraham can be a fantastic attacking trio. The thing is, though, there are only a certain number of tactical setups in which Dybala can truly fit into. He’s not a winger, so a 4-3-3 doesn’t work. He’s played in just about everything during his time at Juventus to varying degrees of success.

At this point, I think he’s very much a No. 10 who might work best in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-2-1 as he plays off the main striker, in this case Tammy. He’s still got the killer left foot and will now make Roma even more of a threat from dead ball situations. But if Jose Mourinho has visions of playing Dybala out wide — and yes, I know that he naturally tends to drift wide so that he can cut in on his left — in a 4-3-3, there’s plenty of evidence from multiple Juve coaches that it simply doesn’t work for Dybala in that kind of formation.

No player is perfect, so what are some of Dybala’s weaknesses or things Roma fans should keep an eye on?

BWRAO: The biggest one has to be his fitness issues at this point in his career. Like I’ve said, he hasn’t extended runs of bad form where you’ve wondered why he’s playing so many minutes. It’s simply keeping him on the field for an extended period of time that has hampered his productivity and makes his numbers look the way they do.

Maybe getting away from Juve’s training staff will be a boost for him. At this point, who the heck knows. Then again, going to a team that plays its home games at the Olimpico isn’t exactly the best of news. But at this point, I think Dybala is pretty much what he is — he’ll play more often than not, he’ll be one of your team’s most creative players, but he will also be a player who is going to miss a decent amount of games due to injuries. There’s just no way to avoid it.

Finally, are there any messages you’d like us to pass on to Paulo?

BWRAO: Tell Paulo that I’m very happy he didn’t sign with Inter and that he can go to a club in which I truly don’t despise with all of my heart. I think Roma is a very good landing spot for him and wish him nothing but the best. This is the kind of situation where he can get back to his best. We know he’s got that talent in there somewhere, it’s just now about trying to fulfill it again.

Thanks as always to Danny. You can catch all his work at BWRAO.