MILAN (Reuters) – It was hard to believe while watching Paulo Dybala’s match winning performance for Juventus against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday that, only a few weeks ago, his days at the Turin club appeared to be numbered.
When Maurizio Sarri took over as coach during the summer and announced that he needed to trim his squad, the Argentine was seen as one of the players most likely to leave.
Dybala, who has a reputation for blowing hot and cold, had spent the previous year battling for a place in the team following the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and endured his least impressive season since joining the club in 2015.
But the move did not materialise and, since then, the 26-year-old has been one of the main beneficiaries of so-called Sarriball which involves moving the ball around the pitch at high speed — as opposed to predecessor Massimiliano Allegri who put the emphasis on “interpreting the match.”
Dybala scored the only goal in Juve’s 1-0 win on Tuesday from a free kick in the unlikeliest of positions near the goal-line, curling the ball over the Atletico wall and in off the crossbar for his seventh goal of the season in all competitions.
“My first thought was what the hell was he doing taking a free kick from there?” said Sarri. “It was extraordinary.
“Dybala is in a special class, in a very positive period of form, so right now he is making the difference.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Dybala had told Spanish newspaper El Pais that Sarri had put the fun back into his game.
“He has a completely different way of understanding the game,” said Dybala.
“For me, and maybe the other forwards, it’s more fun. We have more of the ball and we create more chances. It allows you to take risks and do something different because you know you will have another chance. And that helps a lot.”
Dybala, who has insisted he never wanted to leave the club, also sees more of the ball under Sarri who has given him a more central role.
“I’m lost without the ball, I need to touch it, I need action,” he said. “It’s a necessity – a necessity to create something, to shoot at goal, to dribble.
“A goal is a goal, of course, but I like nothing more than to provide an assist… Embracing your team mate after giving an assist is as great as after scoring a goal.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge)