Juan Cuadrado stood Jeremy Mathieu up one-vs-one. With typical Colombian extravagance, he tried to deceive the Frenchman but the Barcelona man stuck to his task and forced Cuadrado into playing a simple pass inside.
Upon reception, Paulo Dybala had his back turned to Marc-André ter Stegen between the sticks. But barely a second later, the German shot-stopper was picking the ball out of the net, questioning exactly how that just happened. Within the blink of an eye, Dybala had swivelled and instinctively curled the ball with his sumptuous left foot into the far corner.
Juventus were leading Barcelona 1-0 in their Champions League quarter-final tie, and that was just the beginning of Dybala’s magical night. La Joya would go on to double the Bianconeri’s lead with another unerring finish as Juve triumphed 3-0 against the side that had completed La Remontada in the previous round.
April 11 2017 was supposed to be the birth of a new superstar; the beginning of Dybala’s ascendency to stardom. Not his apex.
Can Paulo Dybala produce one more vintage moment in the 2022 Coppa Italia final against Inter?
The Argentine’s prestige had grown exponentially up until that point. After breaking through at Palermo, Dybala enjoyed a superb debut season in Turin before helping Juventus to the Champions League final, their second in three seasons, a campaign later.
But perhaps it was that night against Barcelona where he peaked in regards to his universal reputation. While he has long been loved by Juventini and appreciated by calcio fans, Dybala never quite hit the heights that many projected. He’s never quite been discussed as one of the world’s best, perhaps being seen as a more enigmatic figure.
Injuries certainly haven’t aided La Joya’s pursuit of superstardom, but it’s his lack of ‘big’ moments that hinder his career from a legacy perspective. Following that brace against Barcelona, stand-out Dybala moments have come few and far between. Although, there was the winner against Tottenham and improvised brilliance against Lazio in 2018, as well as the performance in the Covid d’Italia amid an MVP-winning 2019/20 season.
Dybala has certainly had his moments in a Juventus shirt, but they arrive so infrequently and he’s never produced a display against top opposition that makes you wonder why he’s never been considered one of the best in the sport.
On the European stage, Dybala has been an outcast amid Juve’s four most recent disappointing exits. Often injured or hampered in some way, he’s rarely been fit enough to aid the Bianconeri’s cause and this has undoubtedly hurt his prestige. Since that night against Barcelona in 2017, Dybala has picked up as many red cards in the Champions League knockouts as he’s scored goals (one).
Even his big-game domestic record leaves plenty to be desired. While he has admirable goal-scoring tallies against Milan (eight goals in 22 appearances) and Lazio (11 in 19), he’s scored just ten in a combined 49 appearances against AS Roma, Napoli and Atalanta.
On Wednesday, though, Dybala has the chance to produce one more vintage moment for Juventus in the Coppa Italia final against Inter before he departs. It’s the final significant game of his marvellous Bianconeri career, one that includes 12 pieces of major silverware and 115 goals (joint-ninth in all-time Juventus scorers), and he deserves to go out with a bang.
While he might not boast the legacy of Alessandro Del Piero, nor the universal acclaim that Michel Platini once received, Dybala is nonetheless a contemporary Juventus legend despite his relative struggles on the big occasion. La Joya has just five goal contributions in 16 Derby d’Italia appearances, and Max Allegri’s cautious style means we shouldn’t expect Dybala to grab Wednesday’s final by the scruff of the neck.
But he’s continued to prove this season that he’s capable of producing moments that very few of his contemporaries can replicate. Let’s hope he’s got one final sequence of majesty in him.