During this decade, Italian club football has often been shrouded with gloom. Despite the success of the national team in winning the 2006 World Cup, the Calciopoli scandal’s repercussions have been hard felt, damaging the credibility of a formerly prestigious league. The glorious years when the Serie A was a dominant force have subsided, with Italy’s top league being overtaken, in terms of quality, by the likes of La Liga and the Bundesliga.
Thus it becomes so understandable why the prospect of having two young and already prolific forwards coming through in Serie A has got so many onlookers in a frenzy. Of course, these two forwards are Inter’s Mauro Icardi and Juventus’ Paulo Dybala. Both Argentinian and both 22 years old, this pair have established themselves as first choice strikers at their clubs, capturing the imagination of their respective fan bases in the process.
What have they achieved so far?
During only three seasons at Inter, Icardi has managed to establish himself as Inter’s number one striker, whilst also acquiring the club captaincy at the beginning of this term. He finished as joint top goal scorer last season with 22 goals, nine more than his fellow Argentinian managed, whilst also contributing with six assists. He won his first Argentine cap in 2013, but is yet to add to it.
Dybala, on the other hand, only made his first appearance for the Argentine national team in October 2015, but has added two more appearances following this. He is currently in the middle of his first season at Juventus having made a €32 million transfer from Palermo in the summer. Whilst at Palermo, he scored only 21 goals in 93 appearances, scoring 13 of these last term whilst assisting 10 more.
The story so far this term
Icardi may have outscored his compatriot last term, but this season his output will have mildly disappointed him, as he has been numerically surpassed by Dybala. Inter’s captain currently has only 10 league goals and one assist with over half of the Serie A season having already elapsed.
However, Dybala has silenced any doubts whether he’d be able to make the step up at Juventus, and is currently the league’s second top scorer with 13 goals and eight assists, a feat made even more impressive considering that he is competing up front with established frontmen Mario Mandzukic and Alvaro Morata.
But who is the superior?
The question may be rather crude with the number of factors upon which a player can be judged being so numerous. However, with the players being so comparable, it is well worth analysing the quality of the player now as well as how good he may become.
Of the two, Icardi is the rough diamond. A player, although not devoid of trickery or guile, blessed with unceasing physicality and a confrontational temperament. While for some, see the comparable Mario Balotelli or Dani Osvaldo, this may be a hindrance to their displays, it is but another string to the fantastically effective Argentine’s bow. It is this which can make him so effective in aerial situations where he wins the ball on average 40% of the time.
But Icardi is no one trick pony. His fantastic movement and control, alongside incisive interplay make him the ideal lone forward for Inter. Most impressive, however, is his eye for goal and clinical exterior when given chances - there are few strikers who bend the ball around keepers with as much aplomb. His continuing presence up top and with the captain’s armband has led Inter back into contention this season, having finished 8th last season and missing out on European football for the first time in the 21st century.
Despite being very impressive in his final season at Palermo, few thought that Paulo Dybala would meet the headlines made by the aforementioned Icardi last season. To risk being cliché, Dybala has not just met these headlines but exceeded them in a frenetic manner, burgeoning a wide array of support on the way. With Juventus starting this season slowly, it was imperative that the Argentine hit the ground running and he did, scoring his first Juve goal in just his second game.
Contrary to the way in which Icardi’s reputation is centred on his finishing abilities, Dybala plays a far more interesting role. His pace and agility give him versatility as a forward, often resulting in him playing as a wide man off of the aforementioned Mandzukic or Morata. As a consequence, he is far more influential in creative phases of play than Icardi, a lone forward, is.
His contribution can be startling. For such a slight man, he is remarkably persistent and his guile allows him to beat players without any physical contact. As well as beating players with ease, it is the Juve man’s final ball which can be so deadly and it is why managers favour playing him in wide roles, where he can drift into channels and deliver crosses with enough whip to put pressure on the opposition’s back four.
A modern modification of the traditional wide man is evident in Dybala’s tendencies on the pitch. Although he is a very adept crosser, his darting runs inside with or without the ball take the headlines. They let him get onto the end of moves, as well as allowing him to shoot from distance if he has the ball. His shooting ability is clearly demonstrated by his dead ball prowess, and a high proportion of his goals have come from distance.
It is Dybala’s versatility and subsequent ability to play wide which makes him so effective and such a prized asset, as it allows him to contribute significantly more than if he was played as a lone striker.
What the future holds for either one of these forwards is up in the air and ultimately dependent on their respective clubs’ achievements over the coming year. While Napoli are holding the Turin club off currently, their current imperious form looks set to propel them back to the top of the table and they hence must be considered favourites to claim yet another Scudetto. Should Inter qualify for European football once more, Icardi will be poised to stay and lead his side. However, with Real Madrid amongst others allegedly interested, keeping him may prove difficult for the Milanese club.
Regardless, what remains true is that Italian football fans must cherish having these two stars performing in their league. Icardi’s brute strength and clinical instinct make him an ever-present and an ominous threat and one who will likely be successful wherever he goes. Meanwhile, Dybala’s dynamism and unceasing flair make watching him a glorious proposition, while causing one to wonder whether he will develop into a player who will be regarded amongst the world’s best in the future.
The thought of these two potentially playing in the national team together at the next World Cup in 2018, when both will most likely be entering their pomp, does enough to make any football fan’s mouth water.