Making his first start in two months, Paulo Dybala gave a timely reminder of his undoubted ability, bagging a priceless last-minute winner against Lazio at the weekend. The Argentine’s heroics proved why he’s so highly regarded, and his estimated worth of over €100m is justified.
With leading marksman Gonzalo Higuain unlikely to be fit for a start in the return leg against Tottenham Hotspur, the former Palermo starlet will need to repeat his domestic exploits to give Juventus hope of reaching the Champions League quarter-finals.
On a personal level, it’s been a good season for the Bianconeri playmaker. Dybala has already bettered last term’s domestic tally, but it’s the Champions League, so important to the supporters, where he will be judged. The 24-year-old rose to prominence on the continent 11 months ago after his starring performance against Barcelona in the last eight of the tournament, and his double was the difference.
If compatriot Higuain fails to regain fitness, Dybala will either be paired with Mario Mandzukic or act as a False 9, helping the midfield to counter the strong Tottenham base of Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli.
Alli is similarly influential in how his team operate. The Englishman is a different kind of Number 10 to his rival, playing more as a second striker and often very close to star man Harry Kane. The 22-cap international has, by own his high standards, failed to hit the heights of the 2016-17 campaign but has still contributed, particularly on the European stage, and his brace against holders Real Madrid will be fondly remembered.
Aside from his obvious talent, the MK Dons academy graduate has developed a bit of a reputation for the dark arts and has regularly been caught in the middle of a diving storm, and this is something the Bianconeri will need to be mindful of. There is no VAR in the Champions League and Alli can take full advantage of that fact.
On the night, Max Allegri will task responsibility of shackling Alli, and the supply line to Kane, with Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi. The duo are too savvy and experienced to fall for any theatrics, but the threat will be constant from the opening whistle and nullifying Alli will go a long way to cementing their place in the next round.
The tie was billed as 50/50 when the draw was made, and it promises to be an enthralling watch for the neutral. Allegri’s treble chasers will be led by icon Gianluigi Buffon, but passage to the next round will fall at the feet of their talented South American while Lilywhites man Alli will hope for another unforgettable night against another European heavyweight.