Arguing with Allegri, out of form: Are Dybala’s days at Juventus numbered?

Paulo Dybala JuventusGetty

Certain Juventus fans on the Allianz Stadium's Curva Sud refused to celebrate Paulo Dybala’s opening goal in Friday’s 3-0 win over Frosinone because of an ongoing dispute with the club over ticket prices.

There was no way that the Argentine attacker was going to hold back, though.

His 30-yard strike into the top corner was as sweet as it was significant – Dybala’s first goal in Serie A since November, and just his third overall.

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Those are shocking numbers for a player who registered a career-high 22 league goals last season.

So, Dybala was understandably overjoyed at ending his 10-game drought. He even made a point of imitating Cristiano Ronaldo by incorporating his team-mate’s famed ‘Siu!’ celebration into his own ‘gladiator mask' reference.

The Portuguese had done likewise the weekend before, against Sassuolo, in a touching show of support for a colleague going through a difficult time.
Dybala had clearly appreciated the gesture from a superstar that he not only respects but also clicks with, at least off the field.

On the field, the two have yet to gel. Indeed, Frosinone was the first game this season that both players have scored in.

Tellingly, Dybala's best performance of the season, when he netted a hat-trick against Basel in the Champions League, came while Ronaldo was suspended.

Consequently, Dybala’s struggles in front of goal sparked a debate over whether he was truly compatible with the Portuguese.

Cristiano Ronaldo Paulo Dybala JuventusGetty

Only last September, Dybala said he felt "lucky" to be the only player in the world who gets to line up alongside both Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Now, though, some are wondering if it is going to prove his great misfortune.

Argentina's inability to find room for Dybala and Messi in the same starting line-up resulted in him spending all but 22 minutes of last summer's World Cup campaign on the bench.

Meanwhile, his only goal for Argentina arrived during the Barcelona attacker's current sabbatical.

It was all supposed to be very different at Juventus, of course, simply because Dybala and Ronaldo are very different.

The explanation for the failure of 'La Joya' and Messi to mesh was that they were, as the latter even conceded himself, too similar, prone to taking up the same positions on the right-hand side of the attack.

Dybala and Ronaldo, though, looked a wonderfully complementary pairing on paper.

Juve believed that the Argentine, with his craftiness, devastating dribbling and lethal left foot, would prove the perfect foil for their newly-acquired goalscoring machine.

Instead, it is Mario Mandzukic who has emerged as Ronaldo's ideal strike partner, with the Croat enjoying the best season of his Juventus career to date.

Dybala, by complete contrast, is enduring his worst.

Cristiano Ronaldo Paulo Dybala Juventus

As coach Massimiliano Allegri has been at pains to point out, it is not as if Dybala is no longer getting opportunities.

He has featured in all but three of Juve's league matches, starting 18, but he is scoring less, while his shooting accuracy and shot conversion rate have fallen significantly.

"On the other hand," Allegri has argued, "he is linking midfielders and strikers and, above all, he takes us all out of trouble with his skills.

"He is growing a lot from this point of view and, for us, he is very important because then the team benefits from his play.

"I have always said that, with his talent, in some games he can be a box-to-box player because he can finish off the play."

However, when Allegri says "he is pivotal for our game", it's difficult to agree, particularly when the coach has effectively admitted that Dybala can no longer take a starting berth for granted.

“The only issue [for Paulo] is that for a few years we had one forward and now we have two [Ronaldo and Mandzukic],” the Bianconeri boss acknowledged after the Frosinone win.

"Cristiano and Paulo certainly play together and they will do, but we need everyone to work hard in order to keep the team balanced.

"It all depends on who you are playing against. If the opponents are really clammed up, you need to pass around them. If they leave gaps, you pass between the lines."

Unsurprisingly, it would appear that Dybala no longer feels like an integral member of Allegri's team.

After realising he would not even see a minute of action in the recent draw with Parma, Dybala left the dugout and stormed off down the tunnel.

“I didn’t even see that," Allegri said afterwards, before quipping, "He must have been cold..."

It seems more a case of Dybala feeling frozen out or, at the very least, being sacrificed for the good of the team.

Massimiliano Allegri Paulo Dybala Juventus PS
Thus far, he has been willing to serve as Juve's link man but also made a point of saying that "it’s hard to get the ball in between the lines against defensive teams".

On the plus side, after issuing an apology for his petulance, he was immediately forgiven by Allegri, who deemed the case closed. But the fact remains that Dybala is no longer a guaranteed starter.
Obviously, having such a valuable asset regularly sitting on the bench is never an ideal scenario, for either the club or the player, so it is no surprise that the transfer speculation is mounting.

One rather fanciful report from last week even suggested that Juve were willing to offer Dybala and cash to Liverpool for Mohamed Salah.

Juventus director Fabio Paratici promptly dismissed all talk of a sale, asking "Who do you get that is better than Dybala? It's difficult to sign Messi. Even with Neymar, I'd have my doubts."

Nonetheless, Dybala's status at Juve under Allegri is now uncertain.

Indeed, there is a chance he will be dropped to the bench again for Wednesday’s Champions League trip to Atletico Madrid, with full-back Joao Cancelo taking his place on the right flank, and Mattia De Sciglio in behind at full-back.

“A lot depends on who is the right-back and therefore who is the mezzala ,” Allegri confessed on Friday before also adding, “Douglas Costa will also join the squad next week after his injury…”

Essentially, Allegri will decide on a game-by-game basis whether to go with Dybala, Costa, Federico Bernardeschi – or even Cancelo – in support of Ronaldo and Mandzukic in attack.

That is a very lucky position for the coach to be in. But a very unfortunate one for Dybala. And certainly no cause for celebration.