It’s still less than a year since Juventus almost made the fatal error of selling Paulo Dybala to Tottenham Hotspur.

As it turned out, the two parties could not agree on a deal due to the Argentine’s image rights. That breakdown has proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Bianconeri.

Once deemed surplus to requirements, Dybala has gone from strength-to-strength. Whatever you make of Maurizio Sarri’s Turin tenure, the chain-smoking coach has found a way to get Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo into the same side.

The problem

Not so long ago, that was unthinkable. Juve had Ronaldo, Mario Mandžukić, the returning Gonzalo Higuaín and Dybala all competing for starts through the middle. Not to mention Federico Bernardeschi, Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado comprising their wide options. Top-heavy didn’t do their squad justice.

Now, Dybala is on the verge of signing a new deal which, according to Calciomercato, will see him earn €10million a year net before bonuses.

At a time when Ronaldo is reportedly available for £50million as Juventus count the cost of COVID-19, signing Dybala to a new deal is a statement of intent. Forget last summer’s momentary lack of faith, La Joya (The Jewel) is their franchise player, the guy they see their future built around.

Rightly so.

2018/19 Serie A stats for Paulo Dybala compared with 2019/20.

Even the most cursory look as Dybala’s numbers tells a story. He’s scoring more, has a higher xG, is completing more dribbles, supplying more assists and creating more Big Chances. Not bad for someone who has to share the limelight with Ronaldo.

The solution

It’s little surprise Dybala is scoring more frequently. Last term he averaged 2.74 shots (per 90) in Serie A. This term, that number has risen to 4.43 – the 11th-most of any player. Of those, 1.53 are on target, almost twice the 0.88 he averaged in the previous campaign.

Looking at his open-play shot map (below), Dybala is still shooting from some fairly low-value positions. That is little surprise when Ronaldo remains in the side. No matter their status, everyone at the Allianz Stadium is subservient to the Portuguese maestro – Dybala included.

2019/20 Serie A open-play shot map for Paulo Dybala of Juventus

However, a big part of the 26-year-old’s dramatic improvement in form has been his changing role within the side. Previous Bianconeri coach Max Allegri couldn’t find a spot for the talented forward. But Sarri has. Front and centre, alongside Ronaldo in a 4-3-1-2 system. That has meant the former Chelsea and Napoli boss sacrificing some of his principles by deviating from 4-3-3. But it’s been worth it.

Ronaldo scored in a record-equalling 11 straight Serie A games earlier this season. Dybala has already bettered the ten goals he managed in all competitions last term with 13. He’ll have to go some way when the season resumes to better than 26 he hit in 2017/18, but this represents a remarkable recovery nonetheless.

Playing for Juventus brings pressure. Doing so while wearing Alessandro Del Piero’s iconic No.10 jersey only adds to it. Yet Dybala is thriving and has the support of former Bianconeri captain Del Piero to boot.

“Dybala has already worn the captain’s armband a few times and if that happened, it’s because at Juventus they consider him to be worthy of it,” Del Piero said.

“Considering what I know of him, his performances on the field and off, I think that Paulo has matured in recent months. The best of that was how he dealt with what happened over the summer, his reaction [is] emblematic of his much he has grown.

“We knew he was someone who loves to work and today I feel he has become a complete player.”

Sarri’s influence

Del Piero’s talk of completeness is particularly intriguing. Dybala might not initially have been many people’s idea of a Sarri player. His off-the-cuff, instinctive nature does not lend itself to the Italian’s rigid tactical framework. But Dybala is working hard for his team-mates, leading the line by pressing from the front.

Per 90, he’s attempting (0.83 vs. 0.72) more tackles and succeeding with more (0.47 vs. 0.34) too. Dybala’s interceptions are also up (from 0.59 to 0.65) and he’s winning the ball in the attacking third more often – 1.12 times per 90 vs. 0.97. That figure puts him eighth among all players in Serie A.

Passing comparison for Juventus forward Paulo Dybala for the 2019/20 vs. 2018/19 season.

However, it’s attacking output upon which Dybala is really judged. As well as seeing his expected data and number of goals (per 90) increase, he is more involved in Juventus’ build-up play. From 44.14 completed passes (per 90) in Allegri’s final season, Dybala is posting 52.24 this term. Which is more than he even attempted last season.

In the graphic above, we can see Dybala has already exceeded the number of passes he attempted in almost every attacking zone for the entirety of the 2018/19 campaign. The visualisation also shows that the 26-year-old is attempting more passes in advanced areas than last season.

In fact, only Lazio midfielder Luis Alberto completes more final-third passes than the Uruguayan in the whole of Serie A – 23.93 to Dybala’s 22.84, an indicator of his growing influence in attack.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround for a player who was deemed surplus to requirements less than 12 months ago, but La Joya can legitimately claim to be the jewel in Juve’s attack.