Europa League heartbreak shows again AS Roma must wean themselves off Dybala dependence

Although it's somewhat normal to rely on your best player, AS Roma's dependence on Paulo Dybala leaves them seriously wanting when he's not available. It's a problem that Jose Mourinho desperately needs to fix.


Paulo Dybala couldn’t control his emotions at full-time in Budapest. As the Sevilla players sprinted towards their fans to celebrate a penalty shootout victory, La Joya was left with uncontrollable tears streaming down his cheeks.

The World Cup winner looked more childlike than ever as he was consoled by his teammates.

After all, for a good while it felt like this night would belong to him.

Back in Rome, shellshocked fans inside the Stadio Olimpico applauded the Argentinian when he appeared on the big screens.

Dybala had done everything he could. But once again, AS Roma showed that they are a very different side with and without him. News of the striker’s inclusion in the starting line-up came as a surprise, and a huge morale boost, for Roma in the lead-up to kick-off.

La Joya had only been expected to come on for the final 20 or 30 minutes, having not started a game since April 8. Instead, he lined up from the start and was on another level from everyone else on the pitch in the first half.

Jose Mourinho applauds the fans after Roma’s Europa League final loss. (@OfficialASRoma)

Dybala the spark… again

All of Roma’s best moments came through him, from the way he drew in two defenders before slipping Zeki Celik into space to create Leonardo Spinazzola’s big early chance, to the two-touch killer composure of his opening goal.

At the halfway stage, the Giallorossi had played the perfect final.

Their towering, muscular defensive structure had given nothing away, and when they got the ball into the final third they had a magician ready to make things happen.

But, as so often has been the case for Roma this season, it was another story once that sorceror lost the power to wave his wand.

As Dybala tired in the second half, Roma retreated.

Gianluca Mancini deflected a ball into his own net, and by the time the Argentinian traipsed off with 22 minutes to go, there was a deflated atmosphere inside the Olimpico. The fans seemed to lack belief that they could pull this off without him.

For good reason. A penalty shootout was always going to be a tall order against a side possessing a shoot-out expert like Yassine Bounou in goal. Not to mention that Roma’s top two spot-kick experts, Dybala and Lorenzo Pellegrini, were both off by then. Even Nemanja Matic might have fancied himself had he not been taken off.

But the way Roma’s performance was broken into two disparate acts – with and without Dybala – highlighted a theme of the season. Jose Mourinho has still not figured out a way of making this team function in attack without their star man.

Is Roma’s Dybala dependence really a problem?

AS Roma’s Paulo Dybala and Gianluca Mancini celebrate the former’s opening goal in the 2023 Europa League final. (@ASRomaEN)

Now, it’s reasonable to rely on your best player to a certain extent. Most teams have their star, who they look to for inspiration more than others.

But Roma’s issue is twofold.

Firstly, they rely on the individualism of Dybala – not his interpretation of the system, but the belief that he will pull a rabbit from a hat sooner or later. And he’s so good, that he often does just that.

Secondly, Dybala can’t be relied on physically. This can’t have come as a surprise to Mourinho or anyone else at Roma, considering the forward’s well-documented history of fitness problems.

Once Dybala goes off, Roma’s attacking structure is unclear. Tammy Abraham and Andrea Belotti haven’t helped this season with their poor form, but they also don’t have any creative players around them when Dybala is out.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s exit last summer deprived this team of one of its only other sources of wizardry and the Armenian has been badly missed.

With Dybala on the pitch in Budapest, Mourinho’s Roma made sense. They were dogged, they were determined, and they were able to frequently get the ball into dangerous areas and into the feet of their most dangerous player.

Without him, it became an attritional arm wrestle, with more attention given to time-wasting and complaining than looking to play.

Chance creation depended exclusively on set pieces – Belotti’s effort from a Pellegrini free-kick and Chris Smalling’s header off the bar.

As good as those chances were, Roma simply have to find a way of creating more chances in open play and building a proper attacking structure.

It might be strange to argue that they were a more dangerous attacking outfit last season, without the generational talent of Dybala in their ranks, but the numbers don’t lie – they scored 59 league goals in 2021/22, and this term they’ve mustered only 49.

Mourinho’s future is guaranteed to take up most of the Giallorosso column inches in the next few days and weeks, but what Budapest really underlined was that they need more – far more – variety next season in attack, and to stop hedging all their goalscoring bets on a combination of Dybala magic and set pieces.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Must Read

Azzurre unable to find way past Netherlands as late red card...

The Italy Women's National Team face a tough test in their efforts to secure automatic qualification for the 2025 European Championship after being held...