Whilst most people would have expected one particular Argentinian to steal the show during Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final first-leg between Juventus and Barcelona, they certainly wouldn’t have expected it to have been the Italian side’s 23-year-old midfielder Paulo Dybala.
Labelled as ‘the new Messi’, Dybala completely outshone his counterpart last night in Turin as his sublime first-half double helped his side earn a 3-0 advantage to take to the Nou Camp next week.
Dybala has been touted as one of the best young players in the world since moving to Juventus at the beginning of last season from Serie A side Palermo, and he showed all of his potential last night.
The young attacking midfielder rocked Barcelona inside the opening half hour with two sensational efforts to give his side a real edge in the tie going into the second leg next Wednesday.
The first of these was an exquisite shot on the turn, drifting between three stationary Barcelona defenders inside the box, picking the ball up with his back to goal before instinctively swivelling and lashing the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the only place that he could have feasibly scored.
If you thought that finish was good, his second on 22 minutes was even better; joining a Juventus counter-attack at pace, he was picked out on the edge of the area via a lucky deflection and tucked a first-time shot into the near post, with the pace on the shot proving too much for Ter Stegen.
This brace is the first time since Carlos Tevez managed a double back in 2015 that a Juventus player has scored twice in a Champions League match, and it could well be a tie-winning effort this time round.
In the absence of the excellent Sergio Busquets from the heart of the Barcelona midfield Dybala took full advantage of the space left by the covering Javier Mascherano and ran into it all night, giving him a direct passage to a ropey Barcelona back-line – particularly in the case of centre-back Jeremy Mathieu.
The hosts’ pre-match gameplan of playing on the counter-attack also suited the Argentina to perfection, allowing him to use his lightning pace in the breakaway and clever footballing brain to draw the tackle from the last line of Barcelona’s defence, taking the game away from the visitors.
His natural eye for goal – and an eye for the spectacular, as we found out last night – served him extremely well and his directness in attack just proved to be too much for Barcelona.
The statistics suggest that Lionel Messi actually had far more of the ball than Dybala – in the first half alone he had 34 touches to the Juve man’s 16 – but Dybala’s clinical finishing proved the difference.
Although he saw far less of the ball than his fellow Argentine Messi, he was far more productive whilst in possession; even in the second-half, when he had less of an influence as Barcelona pushed for a critical away goal, he showed glimpses of brilliance when holding the ball up in the final third.
The speed of which his feet can act is frightening, able to bounce out of three or four consecutive tackles in the space of a few seconds with quick thinking and tricky feet to outwit his tackler.
Since joining Juventus, Dybala has managed 39 goals and 16 assists in just 79 matches across all competitions, and after his performance last night there will undoubtedly be interest over summer.
With Barcelona one of the teams allegedly interested in the 23-year-old, it will be interesting to see where he ends up; but one thing’s for sure, he made the world stand up and take notice last night.
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