Should Inter have signed Paulo Dybala instead of Romelu Lukaku?

With Paulo Dybala settling nicely at Roma and Romelu Lukaku struggling to refind form at Inter, many Nerazzurri fans will find themselves wondering if the club made the wrong choice last summer.

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Beyond a 1-1 draw at Lecce leaving AS Roma feeling more than a little bitter and coming as a blow in their race for a top-four spot in Serie A, Paulo Dybala‘s eighth Serie A goal of the season gave the Giallorossi a reason to be optimistic with a view to the future, as it was just further evidence of how one of the best signings of the season is enhancing the potential of the Stadio Olimpico outfit.

Although it was scored from the penalty spot, Dybala’s net at the Stadio Via del Mare was just the latest of a series of goal contributions that helped Roma to only lose one Serie A game since the beginning of the year, and that at the hands of leaders Napoli, allowing them to perform with the kind of consistency expected from a side fighting for a Champions League spot.

It also proved that sporting director Tiago Pinto and Jose Mourinho had several good reasons to urge the club to do everything within their possibility to sign the Argentinian last summer, jeopardizing his move to Inter.

Contrastingly, the Nerazzurri are now probably regretting having made Romelu Lukaku their priority in the summer transfer market, not just because of the Belgian’s limited playing time, but also in terms of what kind of qualities Simone Inzaghi‘s side are currently lacking. Those issues were again seen in Inter’s underwhelming 0-0 draw away at Sampdoria in Matchday 22.

Soccer Football – Serie A – Inter Milan v Spezia Calcio – San Siro, Milan, Italy – August 20, 2022 Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku in action with Spezia’s Jakub Kiwior REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

Dybala’s impact at Roma

When Juventus publicly announced their decision not to renew Paulo Dybala’s contract, allowing him to leave for free in the summer of 2022, many wondered whether such a choice could be related to the forward’s recurring physical problems which had seen him miss several games over his last two seasons at the Bianconeri.

This was not enough to discourage Inter sporting director Giuseppe Marotta, already a key piece of the Argentinian’s move from Palermo to Juventus back in 2015. The good relations between the two seemed to pave the way for a controversial transfer to one of Bianconeri’s fiercest rivals, at least until the Nerazzurri stepped back.

At that time, Paulo Dybala joining Roma looked like a rather fanciful prospect, but following repeated meetings between the club and the player’s agent. an agreement was found, with an impressive 8,000 Giallorossi fans giving La Joya an impressive welcome.

Back in August, Dybala was fully fit for the Serie A opening day and he only took three games to make a tangible impact, ironically delivering his first assist in a 1-1 draw against former side Juventus. Since, despite missing five consecutive Serie A games due to a thigh injury before the World Cup break, Dybala took full advantage of the time spent on the pitch, delighting his supporters with countless exciting displays.

The Argentinian has racked up an impressive eight goals and seven assists from 16 Serie A games, which means that he has contributed to more than half of Roma’s 29 league goals. In addition to that, his signing proved crucial to adding flair and creativity to a side that make physicality their main feature.

Why didn’t Inter sign Dybala?

Back in June 2022, Inter sporting director Giuseppe Marotta was caught red-handed by journalists and photographers while meeting with Dybala’s agent Jorge Antun, as the two seemed to be holding fruitful negotiations with a view to bringing the Argentinian to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

But what happened then? When Chelsea became open to the possibility of loaning out Romelu Lukaku after a hugely disappointing first season at Stamford Bridge, a shift of focus took place in the Biscione’s plans.

Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku celebrate (@Inter_en)

After having lost the Belgian during the previous season’s summer transfer market, coach Simone Inzaghi was left wondering how much his side could’ve benefitted from the presence of the athletic, strong and lethal striker that many had admired under Antonio Conte, not to mention his already well-worked chemistry with Lautaro Martinez.

This is why, when Suning‘s limited financial resources forced them to make a choice, the club opted for signing Lukaku, halting negotiations with Antun and Dybala, who eventually decided to join Roma.

Was Dybala a better fit than Lukaku for Inter?

With Lukaku being ruled out of 12 of the first 19 Serie A games played by Inter, it’d be merciless to compare Dybala’s record at Roma with the Belgian’s in Lombardia. But the style of both the players and teams involved can show why the Argentinian should perhaps have been the Nerazzurri’s priority.

Paulo Dybala tries to work an opening for AS Roma against AC Milan. [@OfficialASRoma]

Like last season, Simone Inzaghi‘s outfit ranks amongst the last Serie A sides for attempted and successful dribblings, which helps to understand why they struggle so much when a dip in form from some of their key players or a particularly compact defence prevents them from reaching the opponents’ box through their play.

In other words, in the absence of players that can create a numerical advantage, Inter often have to rely heavily on their passing skills or collective movement, therefore limiting their offensive solutions.

Dybala’s ability to beat his direct marker, with 2.57 attempted dribbles per game and half of them successful, coupled with his ranging passing ability, would’ve multiplied Inter’s attacking solutions as well as made them better at retaining possession, helping them keep control of the games, a feature that would’ve probably avoided dropping many points from winning position as they did.

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