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Paulo Dybala stars in Juventus' Champions League win over Barcelona
Last Updated: 12/04/17 10:26am
Juventus' Paulo Dybala has been linked with a big-money transfer and his brilliant brace against Barcelona in the Champions League showed why he's such a sought-after talent, writes Peter Smith...
They call him the Jewel and it took Paulo Dybala just 22 minutes of Juventus' Champions League quarter-final with Barcelona to show why he's the precious talent coveted by the Italian club's European rivals.
With a swivel and swish of his fine left foot the 23-year-old Argentina striker, who has been linked with an expensive summer switch to Barcelona or Real Madrid, curled the ball into the far corner to put Juve ahead. Fifteen minutes later he hit the net again, firing in first time after bursting unmarked into the box.
Giorgio Chiellini headed in a third to give Juventus a huge first-leg lead but Dybala deserved the headlines.
The 5ft 9in forward arrived in Europe in 2012 amid a fanfare from outspoken Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini, who declared he'd signed the "new Sergio Aguero". By March 2015 Zamparini was claiming Dybala would be better than Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi within two years.
That bold prediction may have been made with the intention of swelling Dybala's transfer value - and Juventus forked out £27m for him the following summer - but during his three seasons with Palermo, the stylish No 10 backed up the president's faith in him.
Thirteen Serie A goals in his final season with the Sicilian club confirmed his rising talent and 23 strikes in 46 matches across all competitions in his first campaign with Italian giants Juventus propelled him to new levels of stardom.
The goals haven't flowed quite as freely in 2016/17 but Dybala's double against Barcelona took his tally to 16 for the campaign. With a second Serie A crown all but assured, a Coppa Italia final against Lazio to look forward to and the prospect of Champions League progress, it's shaping up to be another successful season for the Argentine.
Inevitably, Dybala is attracting interest. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool were all linked with a move when he was at Palermo but now it appears Spain's big hitters are leading the race for his signature.
"Real have developed conversations with Dybala," Sky Sports' Spanish football expert Guillem Balague wrote last month but in 2015 the attacker was quoted as saying he'd "swim" to Barcelona, given the chance, and, ahead of Tuesday's clash, Nou Camp legend Xavi said he "would fit in perfectly at Barcelona if you look at the other players there."
It seems Spain's big two will go into battle for his services. If they needed further convincing, his latest eye-catching performance at Juventus Stadium was a fine showreel of his skills.
Only three players completed more dribbles in Serie A last season and Dybala's quick bursts of speed and neat footwork earned Juventus four free-kicks in dangerous areas. No player on the pitch was fouled more.
Juventus' joint-top assist maker this season roamed across the frontline, probing at the Barcelona defence and he demonstrated his ability to take a chance, capitalising on the space afforded to him in the Barcelona box to convert his two first-half shots.
It'll be a first-class flight to Barcelona rather than a swim across the Mediterranean for Dybala next week, where he'll have another opportunity to enhance his reputation - and take Juventus into the semi-finals.
"Paulo has made great strides in the year he's been here," said Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri this week. "Dybala is a young player who is growing a lot and I think he and Neymar will definitely be the two best in the near future."
It's a big prediction - and not the first time the young forward has been talked up. But Dybala continues to live up to expectations and now the Jewel is shining on the grandest stage.