Premier League

'La Joya' can be the jewel in Tottenham's crown

 • by Tom Bodell
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On the same day Tottenham Hotspur announced a new £320million sponsorship deal for the next eight years, Juventus forward Paulo Dybala was linked with a sensational switch to the North Londoners.

The last two transfer windows have been famously austere for Spurs but with Tottenham Hotspur Stadium now open and their agreement with AIA extended, the Premier League side’s spending power has increased.

Already this summer we’ve seen evidence of that with the £55.5million club-record signing of Tanguy Ndombele to break their drought. It appears Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy are not done there though.

According to The Times, Tottenham’s increased financial clout means Levy has promised Pochettino he will spend big with Juventus’ Dybala top of their list of targets. In fact, La Stampa claims Spurs have already seen a €50million bid turned down.

The Argentine, though undoubtedly one of the best in European football, found himself marginalised by Cristiano Ronaldo‘s arrival at Juventus last season.

With the Bianconeri reportedly keen on Paul Pogba and Mauro Icardi, Dybala is deemed expendable and has been linked with a move to Manchester United or Internazionale throughout the summer.

Reports of Tottenham’s interest in Dybala, nicknamed ‘La Joya’ (The Jewel), have come out of the blue. Under the shrewd stewardship of Levy the North Londoners have never been viewed as a potential destination for the very top bracket of players to move to; rather the finishing school for those on the cusp such as Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen or Dele Alli.

Typically, Dybala’s salary would be out of Tottenham’s reach. But with their new ground generating a reported £800,000 per match purely from function rooms, restaurants, bars and the street-food vendors, they have moved into a new era – one where Dybala could be a financial fit.

There is no doubt the signing of a bonafide world-class forward to supplement Tottenham’s already strong attacking core of Kane, Eriksen, Alli and Heung-min Son would push Pochettino’s side forward. At a time when Manchester United are in disarray, rivals Arsenal are faring little better and Chelsea are hamstrung by a registration ban, Spurs can capitalise.

So how would the diminutive Argentine fit in at Tottenham?

Pochettino has shown tactical flexibility during his time in North London but his preference has been to set up in a 4-2-3-1 system. Kane is the line leader in the No.9 position but after that Alli, Eriksen, Son and now Lucas Moura are fairly fluid in where they play. Throw Érik Lamela into the equation and Spurs are pretty stacked in the attacking midfield-cum-forward department.

But Dybala is a cut above.

It’s would be unfair to read too much into his statistical output from 2018/19. He was shunted around to make room for Ronaldo as the out-and-out centre-forward in Max Allegri’s Juve side and that was reflected in his return of five Serie A goals from 24 starts – his lowest haul since his second season in Italy with Palermo.

Juventus forward Paulo Dybala's Serie A stats for 2017/18 vs. 2018/19

Instead, we’ll look at the Dybala of 2017/18 who notched 26 times in all competitions – his best season in Turin. The Argentine was third among Serie A attackers for goals per 90 with 0.84, a figure which wildly exceeded his xG90 score of 0.26 and his post-shot xG90 of 0.35.

While that is impressive, it also points to an unsustainable return and might go some way to explaining his dramatic drop-off in 2018/19. Dybala underperformed last year, scoring at a rate of 0.21 per 90 vs. an xG90 total of 0.3. But the two xG90 scores are not dissimilar which is a more accurate reflection of his goal-scoring ability.

In terms of other attacking metrics, Dybala was among the best in Serie A. He ranked third for attempted dribbles (4.92 per 90), first for completed dribbles (3.55), 11th for crosses completed (1.07), fifth for passes completed in the opposition half (28.81), second for total passes completed (41.88), third for shots on target (1.75) and second for touches (73.79). All of which paints the picture of a creator as well as a goal scorer.

Interestingly, he did not take too many touches inside the penalty area – only 4.12 – and this is borne out in Dybala’s heat map for 2017/18 (below) which indicates the highest volume of activity outside the 18-yard box on the right-hand flank.

That he finished with so many goals is thanks in no small part to his penchant for the spectacular. With seven strikes from outside the box – at a rate of 0.26 per 90 – no-one was more prolific in Serie A.

Juventus forward Paulo Dybala's heat-map for Serie A in 2017/18

Despite spending much of last season on the right-hand side of Juventus’ attack, Dybala played through the middle as a No.10 in 2017/18 and that could be where a space will open up in Tottenham’s attack.

Eriksen has been continually linked with a move away this window – fanning the flames earlier in the summer by admitting he was ready for a new challenge – and although a switch to Real Madrid appears to be off the agenda, Atlético Madrid is a possible alternative.

If the Danish schemer is to move to Madrid he will leave behind a sizeable creative hole. Yet it’s one Dybala would be more than able to fill.

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