With the fans and everybody at Roma antic­i­pat­ing his first match with the Giallorossi, let’s see some possible ways in which Mourinho could integrate Paulo Dybala into the team

For days, AS Roma supporters waited in trepidation for the announcement to be made. Then, they watched the videos of his first training with the team over and over again, in awe. Finally, they got the only tangible item of this sports miracle, selling out every single shirt with the number 21 on it. The legend tells that the “Y” character was sold out at every Roma Store within hours. The Romanisti will keep dreaming about Paulo Dybala for many more days, but the truth is that there’s not much time to build the team around him and his unique skills.

There are less than three weeks before the new Serie A campaign starts, and Dybala is yet to play a single minute in a friendly game with his new team. Although the integration process will be long and will likely continue after the season starts, a few considerations can already be made. Taking Dybala’s presence in the starting XI for granted – reportedly one of the reasons that convinced him to choose Rome despite them not playing in the Champions League – how will Mourinho’s team change to integrate him? There are plenty of offensive players to pick from, especially if – as it’s being said these days, Zaniolo will eventually sign his renewal with Roma and stay with the Giallorossi.

Watching the matches that Dybala played with Juventus, especially in the past season, we imagined three ways in which Roma could change with the new signing on the pitch. From the most conservative, to the most innovative.

The “Small” Forward in a 3-5-2

The more conservative option is the one that sees Dybala integrating into the 3-5-2 system that Roma has used for the best part of the past season. The Argentinian played in a similar position in his very first season with Juventus, in the 2015/16 season. From an exclusively goal-scoring perspective, this was one of Dybala’s best seasons ever, scoring 23 goals in all competitions. “La Joya”, though, is now lacking that mobility that allowed him to be also incisive with deep runs and with time he became more dependent on carrying the ball, linking up on the offensive third or towards the flanks.

These tendencies will force Roma to change how they move the ball up the pitch. That is using Zaniolo as some sort of zip-line to take the ball from Roma’s own third to the opposing one. Dybala can’t do that kind of work and will need a team that is able to gravitate around him, continuously offering him passing lines. From this perspective, Pellegrini, with his mobility without the ball and his cuts in the penalty box, could be the ideal teammate. As an inside forward, Roma’s number 7 could allow Dybala to take advantage of his genius behind the opposing midfielders, attacking the offensive third in the left half-space. By doing this, Mourinho’s midfield could rotate, transforming the initial 3-5-2 into a 3-4-2-1.

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Last season, Juventus already changed their initial 4-2-3-1 to form a three-man defense when building up. In that case, it was Morata, theoretically deployed on the left wing, who cut down the center of the pitch to link up in the offensive third, or to cut toward the penalty box.

The Trequartista in a 4-4-2 Diamond

Playing with a four-man defense, possibly deploying all the offensive potential at their disposal, could have a far more radical impact on Roma’s football. For example, would it be actually sustainable to think of a 4-3-1-2 with a diamond shape to play Dybala behind Zaniolo and Abraham? Regardless of the possible problems with defensive transitions that could be avoided by adding a more dynamic player like Pellegrini, Roma should also think of a way to compensate for their movements from and towards the center of the pitch. Dybala loves to receive the ball moving towards the right wing. Or, contrarily, starting from the flank and linking up in the center. At Juventus, this aspect was eased by the presence of such an intelligent player without the ball as McKennie, who was very good at filling the gaps generated by Dybala’s movements.

At the moment, Roma don’t have the kind of inside forwards that are dynamic without the ball and would need a new eureka moment from Mourinho to help Dybala unleash his creativity. Move Pellegrini to the right? Play Cristante as an inside forward? Repeating what he did with Nicola Zalewski and turning Edoardo Bove into a right inside forward?

A Fake 4-2-3-1

A compromise between the two solutions could be a fake 4-2-3-1, similar to what Juventus tried to do in the past season. Without changing the two-man midfield too much – presumably composed by Matic and Cristante, Dybala’s movement would be organically compensated by Zaniolo on the right (if Dybala would cut from the center to the right half space) and Pellegrini on the left (when he’d link up on the midfield). By doing this, there could be a strong side on the right and a weak side on the left, where Roma have formidable players like Spinazzola and Zalewski. They would also need to rely on the connection with the opposite wingers being a winning choice, not only for their ability to attack the man in 1v1s, but also to take advantage of Dybala’s soft touch when changing flank with long passes. This also would allow him to receive the ball behind the opposing midfield afterward.

Freeing the Argentinian trequartista at the limit of the penalty box will be one of the most critical keys of AS Roma’s offensive success in the next season. There shouldn't be the need to remind the Roman fans of the reason why, as Romanisti themselves remember it very well. In fact, it was after a long pass to the left wing and a following reception behind the midfield line that Dybala tied the game in his last appearance at the Olimpico against Roma, ending with a crazy 3-4 result for Juve.

Up until a few days ago, the Romanisti remembered that game for the three goals conceded within eight minutes in the second half. Today, they’re more likely focusing their memories on that sweet curved ball that the Argentinian sent on Roma’s goal that day.

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