WHAT DOES RÚBEN DIAS BRING TO CITY?
MAHADEVAN SANKAR | 30th September 2020
To say the 2019/20 season was a mixed bag for City would be putting things kindly. On the back of a domestic treble, expectations were sky high and despite winning 2 trophies in the form of the League Cup and Community Shield, Pep Guardiola’s men were swept away in the league by Liverpool, finishing 18 points adrift from the champions. Furthermore, their failure to get past Lyon in the quarters of the Champions League compounded their woes even more. Throughout the season, it was pretty clear to see the impact Aymeric Laporte had on this City team and how his absence due to injury was fatal to the club’s hopes of doing a three-peat. Arguably the best centre-back in the league behind Virgil van Dijk, his time on the sidelines meant the Sky Blues’ fragility at the back was further exposed throughout the season.
From the start of the transfer window, it was abundantly clear that they needed an upgrade on a position that was feeling the void left by club legend, Vincent Kompany. And with Rúben Dias’ acquisition confirmed last night, have they finally signed the man to make City a powerhouse in defence as they are going forward? Only time will tell. But first, let’s revaluate the plenty of bumps in the road for City in their chase to fill that Vinny Kompany-sized hole.
The Never-Ending Centre-Half Chase
Having chased Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli all summer, City were left frustrated by the stance of Napoli owner Aurelio de Laurentiis, a relationship that was fractured way back when they tried to sign Jorginho. Fali Ramdani, Jorginho as well as Koulibaly’s agent handled things for both parties and while things came close enough for City’s social media team to leave a placeholder at the bottom of Rúben Dias’ squad number reveal, issues over valuation meant the Senegalese international wouldn’t switch for another shade of sky blue. Speculations around Sevilla’s Diego Carlos were briefly mooted around, however it was his defensive partner in Jules Koundé who looked like the likeliest to join. However, the same offer that Benfica accepted for Dias was rejected by the Europa League champions and ultimately, it is reported that City gave the Portuguese an edge in any case due to his bags of experience, despite his young age.
In the midst of all this, José María Giménez’s name sprang out of nowhere and contrary to reports that City were willing to pay what was already an outlandish fee in £89 million, his €120 million release clause all but confirmed that the Uruguayan was never on his way to the Etihad.
However, as the chase for this long list of targets ended, Rúben Dias has finally put pen to paper for £64.3 million with Nicolás Otamendi going the other way for £13.7 million.
Over recent years, a number of high-profile Benfica players have made the move away from the Estádio da luz, having established a big reputation in the Portuguese capital, seeking to take a step up in their careers. Ederson, Nélson Semedo, Raúl Jiménez and João Felix are just a few examples over the last few seasons. Add to this the role of the Benfica academy and you have 4 already at City in the aforementioned Ederson, Bernardo Silva, João Cancelo and now, their new man.
While Nathan Aké at £41m was considered more of a depth option, their latest addition from SL Benfica will no doubt be a definite starter and an undoubted upgrade on their current options.
But before arriving to any conclusions, let’s acquaint ourselves with City’s No. 3 and what to expect from him.
Born in Amadora, Dias came through Benfica’s youth system, spending the last 12 years of his career at the club, working his way up the ranks of the academy. Since breaking into the first-team back in 2017, Dias has gone on to make 124 appearances for the Portuguese juggernauts. Since his breakthrough and rubbing shoulders with the club’s big dogs, the prodigious central defender hasn’t looked out of place. Rúben was named the Primeira Liga’s Young Player of the Year straightaway and the following season, his rock-solid performances helped Benfica win the league title in the 2018–19 season and later the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira during the 2019–20 season, while also being named in the Primeira Liga’s Team of the Year.
So impressive has his progress been that Dias is now one of the first names on the team-sheet selected by Portugal coach Fernando Santos, and has 17 caps to his name. To many Portuguese fans, the 23-year old defender looks dead set to become a future captain of the national team. He made his senior international debut in 2018, being chosen in Portugal’s squads for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 UEFA Nations League Finals on home soil, winning the latter tournament while also being named as the Man of the Match in the final. In November 2019, the Eagles were able to tie the 23-year-old down to a new deal that would keep him at the club until 2024. However, perhaps most importantly, Benfica also negotiated the inclusion of a €100 million release clause.
The highly-rated Portuguese powerhouse had been on the radar of several European heavyweights like Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus. While being compared to the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Milan Skriniar and Niklas Süle, it is clear to see that Benfica’s academy has produced another gem. When Kompany left City at the end of the 2018-19 campaign, Guardiola opted to utilise Fernandinho as a central defender on a short-term basis. Finding a replacement for the Belgian was always part of the plan but in a season that saw them lose nine league games, three more than the combined total of the previous two Premier League title-winning campaigns, the need became increasingly obvious. The Brazilian deputized as well as possible and while he has proved to be one of the most all-conquering defensive midfielders in recent memory, he simply wasn’t a centre-half.
It all led them back to Dias, someone they have been monitoring for the past couple of years. Although City are paying more than the £60m release clause which existed in Dias’ previous contract, it is less than the £80m he has in the current one, which he signed in November 2019.
‘Will he be worth the money?’ is the question that naturally comes to mind. You never really know in football, but we’ve done our best to unravel any doubts based on sheer evidence.
A Statistical and Stylistic Breakdown
An expert passer
The heat map below clearly indicates the positions he takes up in the game. Most of Dias’ actions take place outside the box, closer to the halfway line. This is indicative of Benfica playing a higher defensive line an aggressive offside trap, that is generally led by the Portuguese international. His positions in the 2nd phase also indicate his prowess in progressing the ball through midfield. Bypassing the opposition press, his ability to dribble through the midfield is key to opening up passing lanes and disorienting the opposition structure.
Looking at City’s high line under Guardiola from day one and the Catalan coach’s stringent demands for a centre-half who can play higher up the pitch to make incisive passes into the channels, Dias ticks these boxes.
In the Benfica system, he has the freedom to distribute the ball via long passes and in other cases, dribble through the midfield, inviting pressure on to him while opening up passing lanes for progression; in the style of Maguire, van Dijk or an Upamecano. Dias’ passing accuracy is impressive standing at 88%, which indicates his quality on the ball. While this stat alone can be misleading at times, the fact that he makes an impressive 58.8 passes per 90 and is far from risk-averse makes him the definition of a ball-playing defender. After all, he plays 11.63 progressive passes and 9.79 final third passes per 90 respectively, based on Wyscout data.
This ability on the ball is a pre-requisite for any defender in a Guardiola system and will be music to his ears.
In the Premier League, the Citizens have the highest possession numbers and so in a sense, Dias will not have qualms in settling. At Lisbon, his budding partnership with left-back Alex Grimaldo was prominent to see as most of Benfica’s passing combinations in the 1st phase ran through both of them. At City, this feature is especially crucial as most of the time, they tend to run into teams that play a low block. A potential partnership alongside Laporte will be a terrifying prospect for teams, as both of them can open up various angles to progress the ball forward.
Just the beast at the back City have been begging for
Defensively, Dias leaves no stone unturned as well. As per Wyscout, his defensive duel success stands at 65.9% coupled with an impressive 4.49 defensive actions per 90. He is quite an aggressive defender on the ball, as he uses his size and pace to duel out wide with opposing attackers on the counter. The Benfica man’s heading ability is also equally worth taking note of, with a general success rate of 59%, a figure that rises to 85% in his defensive 3rd. Winning 2.61 aerial duels per match, the 23-year old’s addition is a welcome one, considering the blue half of Manchester does have the shortest team in the Premier League. Think of Lucas Moura’s headed equalizer from a corner last season and it makes Dias’ signing make all the more sense, considering only the likes of Rodri and Laporte can actually go head-to-head with just about anyone in the league.
This quality of his has manifested into 12 goals already in his young career so far, a number that is very impressive for a defender. Ever since the departure of Vincent Kompany, City have lacked a real presence in the box, considering both the attacking and defensive phases. His proactive and all-or-nothing style is in some ways quite similar to the mercurial Belgian.
A quick glance at the defensive action chart below highlights how crucial he is to this Benfica side.
Ruben Dias’ maturity in his play belies his age sometimes, as he organizes his defence to successfully press the opposition or stay back and hold shape. While other numbers such as his 0.91 interceptions, 0.91 tackles and 0.52 blocks per match make a stronger argument for just how suited he is to a City backline that is begging for a top-tier central defender, his biggest quality is immeasurable and that’s his leadership, as clichéd as that may sound.
A born leader
Having played alongside leaders like Jardel in his Benfica team and stalwarts like Pepe and Jose Fonté for Portugal, he has developed a sense of leadership that shines through as one watches Benfica. Dias is generally the one that sets the tone in defence, aggressively moving forward to press and set traps for the opposing team. While he recognizes that he leaves space in behind while playing the offside trap, he knows that with his quality, he can enforce a turnover.
The Benfica youth graduate was appointed the captain of the club before his move to City which is also another quality the Sky Blues have been lacking since the departure of Kompany. His assured display in the Nations League final against Netherlands was the one that really put him on the map and in the absence of Pepe, he bossed things from the back as Portugal won 1-0.
Dias is a leader and he’s never messing about.
As we have seen above, Dias is a phenomenal talent for his age. We have seen players like Bruno Fernandes come from the Liga NOS and take the Premier League by storm. While he has experience beyond his years, he also has a penchant for losing his concentration and giving away silly fouls. While his disciplinary record is surprisingly impressive with only 6 yellow cards and a solitary red card throughout his career, considering his aggressive style of play, Guardiola will need to iron out his concentration issues. However, with former Seixal academy natives in Bernardo Silva and Ederson already in the squad, the transition to the PL stage will be less than troublesome.
City and especially Guardiola have a less than complimentary hit rate with central defensive additions, considering their extravagant spending on this position alone, with the only successful signing being Laporte. Despite the potential cost of the deal, Dias would be a considerable upgrade on their existing options and a sure short starter for this side.
A promising and potentially world -class defender, it will definitely boost City’s prospects in the short term as they push Liverpool in the title chase. Whether he has the desired impact will remain to be seen, but we can envision him being a very good signing in the years to come.
We’re definitely here for Dias to City.
CREDITS: FOOTBALL BLOODY HELL (ANALYSIS VISUALS), SMARTERSCOUT (DATA & ANALYTICS)