As Dybala and Higuain learn to coexist, Juventus need goals from elsewhere
Paulo Dybala scored his first goal of the season when Juventus thrashed Dinamo Zagreb 4-0 midweek in their Champions League Group H clash. However, despite the goal, it still seems that the Argentine is not playing like himself.
Blessed with quick feet and wonderful movement, Dybala proved a sensation in his debut season with the Bianconeri. Playing with confidence and reliant on his instincts, he was one of the few who always played for the win and seemed to regularly make the right choice. However, this season, he appears shackled by his selflessness, consistently looking to pass the ball rather than take the shot himself. Perhaps his goal midweek will have released the pressure or perhaps the problem has to do with whomever is tasked with playing alongside him.
Mario Mandzukic isn't the world's greatest striker, but he is a forward who plays for the team. Consistently sacrificing himself for his teammates, he holds the ball up, brings others into play and acts as the first line of defence. Dybala benefitted from playing alongside him last season, exploiting the strength of the Croatian to create opportunities for himself. Allowed to be a little selfish, the diminutive striker scored twice in Juve's first three games and proved sensational throughout the year.
When Gonzalo Higuain arrived in Turin, many salivated over the potential partnership he would strike up alongside Dybala. Both Argentine, both audaciously talented, the little and large combination was set to light up the pitch and, to some degree, it has. The ex-Napoli star has already set about proving why he is considered one of the world's finest strikers, finishing goal-scoring opportunities with aplomb.
Hard-working, experienced and famous for his winning mentality, Higuain is truly a €90 million player and as such, asks to be served well by those around him. This has inadvertently affected Dybala's game, as has the lack of creativity in midfield.
Consistently retreating deep to collect possession and drive the team forward, Dybala is too far away from Higuain to combine effectively, while the two are yet to understand when to take their chances and when to help the other out, sacrificing themselves for the sake of the team. In midweek, the stats proved that Higuain and Dybala had not exchanged a single pass throughout the game.
Dybala loved Mandzukic's ability to hold up play and take defenders away to offer him time and space to operate and finish, while Higuain requires vision and intellect to create opportunities for him.
In time, the two will find their way through, learning how to juggle their tasks to serve their own interests and that of the team. In the meantime, Massimiliano Allegri needs to lighten the load by injecting the midfield with players capable of offering vision and technique. By playing Hernanes, the coach unleashed Miralem Pjanic and allowed him to revel in attacking play rather than burden him with defensive duties. This resulted in better passes, greater creativity and a 4-0 score line midweek. It is perhaps why Allegri is likely to depend on the Brazilian again in the match against Napoli on Sunday as he waits on Claudio Marchisio's return.
Without Marchisio, Juventus look unbalanced in midfield as they miss his tactical knowledge. One of the few capable of securing the backline and adding value to the team's offensive patterns of play, Marchisio understands how to organise, operate and unleash those ahead him, allowing Allegri tactical versatility. His return should allow the coach a greater chance to experiment with the shape, perhaps allowing Marko Pjaca an opportunity to start.
Yet until then, it seems Allegri is unlikely to experiment much in Sunday's match against Empoli and is set to start his usual men in a 3-5-2 formation. On paper, this looks like an easy game, but the Tuscans can be dangerous as they are good at keeping possession, boast an impressive pass success rate and are good in the air. However, they simply cannot score goals and have only managed two this season, both coming from set pieces. Juve have proved a little vulnerable from corners and must ensure they keep concentrated throughout the entirety of the match to secure maximum points and build confidence.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.