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Paulo Dybala could be what Roma need to truly progress under Jose Mourinho

Roma is a club that cherishes its heroes. They still sing about Francesco Totti, Daniele de Rossi and Gabriel Batistuta on the Curve Sud. Now they might still be singing about another Giallorossi icon after the arrival of Paulo Dybala. The 28-year-old has been signed to be the face of Jose Mourinho’s team. 

Dybala was a wanted man after leaving Juventus at the end of last season as a free agent. Premier League clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester United were linked with the Argentine while the player himself was reported to be keen on a move to La Liga, with Barcelona mentioned as one possible destination.

Inter ultimately emerged as the primary suitor for Dybala with the San Siro outfit interested in further strengthening their attack following the return of Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea. But the Nerazzurri couldn’t find the funds to complete a deal. And so, the door opened for Roma to make their sales pitch.

The contract Dybala has signed at the Stadio Olimpico will see him earn €6m-a-season, making him Roma’s highest-paid player. However, a €20m release clause in the 28-year-old’s contract will become active next summer, suggesting the attacker must be made to feel Roma are heading in the right direction for him to stick around.

Last season was a difficult one for Roma. The appointment of Mourinho last summer raised expectations at the club, but the Giallorossi finished just one place better off in the Serie A table than the season before. There was never any realistic chance that Mourinho would lead Roma into the top four, and the Champions League.

Of course, Mourinho did lift the Europa Conference League trophy in his debut season as Roma manager, which allowed the Portuguese coach to argue he is cultivating a winning culture within his dressing room. But the reality remains that the Giallorossi have a lot of ground to make up on the teams above them in the Serie A table.

Dybala is exactly the sort of talent who could help them bridge the gap. At his best, the Argentine is a difference-maker at the highest level. There’s a reason he was linked with a move to many of European soccer’s best teams. And there’s a reason why Mourinho wanted him more than any other suitor.

Mourinho will need to tweak his tactical set up to get the best out of Dybala. The 28-year-old could be the ideal partner for Tammy Abraham, but this will require Roma to play with a front two when they have predominately used a 4-2-3-1 shape under Mourinho. A shift to a 4-4-2 formation could be the solution.

At Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho used Harry Kane and Son Heung-min as a front two to great effect. His game plan revolved around creating as much space as possible for the pair and relying on their attacking instincts to find goals. This formula could be replicated at Roma now that Dybala has been signed. 

As an attacking option, Dybala is extremely versatile. He is capable of operating on either flank, in behind a central striker as a number 10 and even as a number nine in his own right. This flexibility will give Mourinho a variety of options. Roma could be a more fluid, dynamic attacking outfit next season thanks to Dybala.

It could be the case that Dybala’s arrival at the Stadio Olimpico pushes Nicolo Zaniolo out the exit door. The two attackers like to occupy the same area of the pitch, although Mourinho could potentially use Dybala in a central role with Abraham and Zaniolo as a front two. Dybala and Zaniolo could dovetail and unsettle defenders by switching position throughout matches.

Zaniolo has been linked with Juventus throughout the summer transfer window and so it’s possible Dybala’s signing has been in made in anticipation of the Italian international’s imminent departure from Roma. Even if this turns out to the case, Mourinho will see the addition of Dybala as an upgrade.

This season will be a critical one for Roma, and Mourinho. The 59-year-old must achieve significant progress in his second season at the Stadio Olimpico before the club starts to question whether another manager could be doing more with the talent currently in the dressing room.  The signing of Dybala will only add to this pressure, but it could also be the next big piece for Mourinho to build a winning team.

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