Manchester City believe they have uncovered the heir to former captain Vincent Kompany with the signing of Ruben Dias from Benfica – so could he be the player to fix their defensive problems?
Portugal international centre-back Dias, 23, has joined Pep Guardiola’s side for £65m in the wake of City’s humbling 5-2 defeat by Leicester City on Sunday.
The 2018-19 Premier League champions finished 18 points behind winners Liverpool last season in their first campaign following club legend Kompany’s departure.
City lost nine league games last term despite suffering only six defeats combined across the two previous title-winning campaigns – and six in Guardiola’s first season in charge in 2016-17.
Dias has impressed in three years at Benfica, for whom he made 137 appearances, earning selection for Portugal’s 2018 World Cup squad at just 21. But is he the answer to Guardiola’s concerns at the back?
Why City spent £65m to land Dias
It is no secret that signing a right-sided central defender has been a priority for Guardiola ever since Kompany’s departure left a significant void in City’s defence in May 2019.
The failure to secure an immediate replacement for their former skipper was, after all, seen as a major part of City’s failure to challenge Liverpool for the title last season.
Guardiola frequently opted to use midfielder Fernandinho as a central defender over Nicolas Otamendi – who has moved to Benfica in a separate deal – and England’s John Stones, while injuries have limited Aymeric Laporte to 15 league appearances since August 2019.
Sunday’s defeat was unchartered territory for Guardiola, however, as it was the first time in his 686-game career as a manager that one of his sides had conceded five goals. It was also the first time in 438 home games that City have shipped five.
Speaking on City’s poor defensive display against Leicester, Match of the Day 2 pundit Darren Fletcher said: “It is just basic defending but the gaps between each member of the back four were too big and there was a lack of communication.
“It looked like a back four that had never played together before – which it was – but it also looked like a back four that was lacking experience – which it definitely wasn’t.”
‘Leader Dias is one of the best’
Replacing club legend Kompany, who led City to a first top-flight title since 1968 during his 11 years at Etihad Stadium – eight of which he spent as club captain – is a daunting prospect for anyone.
But Dias has already demonstrated leadership qualities far beyond his years.
Having captained Portugal’s Under-19s at the 2016 European Championship, he went on to lead his nation at the U20 World Cup the following year before earning his senior debut at 21 in May 2018.
Now a regular starter, he already has 19 caps to his name and started in his country’s Nations League final triumph against the Netherlands last summer.
Speaking on his compatriot’s qualities, former Premier League manager Carlos Carvalhal told World Service that Dias “is a leader”, a “balanced, strong player” who maintains “100% concentration”.
“It is why he played in the Benfica first team at 19, 20,” he added. “He is a different character to [Manchester United’s Portuguese midfielder] Bruno Fernandes, for example, because he is a defender – Dias is more effective talking to the people around him and he understands what the manager wants.
“After [a match], because he is so concentrated, he is always talking with his colleagues about how to be more effective. I think he will be great at Manchester City.
“Comparing the qualities and age of the boy, I think he is one of the best centre-backs at the moment.”
Has Guardiola stumbled upon the right man?
Napoli’s Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly, 29, was Guardiola’s top target, however City were not prepared to pay his £80m price tag – nor were they willing to meet Atletico Madrid’s £78m valuation of Uruguay international Jose Gimenez, 25.
Having also ruled out Sevilla’s Jules Kounde, and with one week of the summer transfer window remaining, all roads led to Dias.
At six years younger than Koulibaly and cheaper than Gimenez, Dias offers a long-term investment – with time very much on his side if he hopes to emulate Kompany’s decorated stay, which included four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and four League Cups.
His legacy at Benfica was evident as, after captaining and scoring for his side, he embraced his team-mates at the end of his final game on Saturday.
Dias’ Portugal team-mate Jose Fonte told TalkSport:
“Ruben is one of my favourite young centre-backs. He’s only 23, but he shows great maturity.
“He has a great work ethic. He wants to learn, he wants to improve. He observes the great defenders, he’s interested in knowing the game. It’s a great acquisition for Manchester City. They’re getting a top, top player who wants to get better and that’s very important.”
‘Dias and City face unbelievable level of scrutiny’
However, speaking on Radio 5 Live, pundit Chris Sutton warned City’s new big-money signing will be under intense scrutiny and pressure to instantly deliver in the Premier League.
“He has to come and prove himself and hit the ground running,” Sutton said.
“It’s going to be difficult for him because the scrutiny on him will be unbelievable.
For his sake – and Manchester City’s sake – you have to really hope that they’ve really done their due diligence on him and he’s going to play well from the start – because you can imagine, if he misplaces a pass or someone dribbles past him, someone will say he’s a waste of money.
“City have put themselves under pressure with the manner of their defeat against Leicester.
There will be scrutiny and people will be looking and comparing and asking how City are going to touch Liverpool this season. If City want to win the league they must keep clean sheets, defend strongly and do it quickly.”
‘He was never City’s first choice’ – analysis
Dias is the latest City recruit to have started life in Benfica’s Seixal academy, but unlike compatriots Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo he won’t be afforded a season to bed in.
Since Kompany’s departure in 2019, City have needed an authoritative, combative, right-footed centre-back and the defeat by Leicester showed they cannot wait any longer.
Dias was not City’s first choice. They wanted the finished article but, with their relationship with Napoli irreparable after the Italian club sold Jorginho to Chelsea in 2018, a deal for Koulibaly for less than £70m always looked unlikely.
This may prove better business though. Dias is six years younger, cheaper and offers City the opportunity to offload Otamendi, 32, at the same time.
Koulibaly’s form has fluctuated a great deal depending on his defensive partner, while Dias has proven himself as a consistent performer in the three years since breaking into the Benfica first team, as well as a leader – which City sorely need.
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