Manchester City’s search for a defender is over, and now the weight of expectation turns to Rúben Dias.
To say that Manchester City’s season is in crisis after just two league games sounds harsh, but reality has quickly come to slap them awake. Liverpool are six points clear after just two matches, and City are fresh off a defensive embarrassment at the hands of Leicester. Rúben Dias has been announced as the promised star defender who will change the complexion of the team, but the question of how much they will lean on him is an intriguing one.
A fully fit Aymeric Laporte is a massive upgrade over what City had to bear for the first half of last season, by the end of which they were already out of the title race. His return clearly did not sort everything out, as the team have yet to replicate the form that saw them win 14 straight to win the league in 2018-19 on the back of the Laporte-Vincent Kompany partnership.
With Dias in from Benfica on a massive transfer fee, that will be the expectation. City have major issues, and some are questioning whether they come down to Pep Guardiola’s system and fatigue after years of an intense style of play rather than individuals. This is absolutely possible, and City could melt down in a third-season José Mourinho fashion if that is the case and drop into the race to stay in the top four. Equally, however, exists the possibility that Dias’ arrival will be just the push this team needs to really challenge Liverpool and possibly even defeat them.
His initial interviews could not have been better. He looks a leader, a stone cold no-nonsense defender who only seeks one thing: winning. No matter his mentality, however, the proving ground of the Premier League will test his merits as a player. For City to even have a chance at the title, however, he must be an absolute superstar: either the second or third best defender in the league.
If he is equal or surpass Laporte, City should be able to paper over the cracks of their very open system and simply concede less goals. This would give Guardiola the trust to really unleash City’s attacking talent in midfield, rather than playing two of Fernandinho, Rodri, and İlkay Gündoğan, a system which hurts the team going forward.
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However, for this to be the reality, Dias cannot just be good. He has to be a significant upgrade on all other options available, including Nathan Aké, and give City a consistent, every-game partnership at the back. Without Dias, City’s fate was already decided. They would likely come between second and third in the league due to their defense, absolutely smash some teams 5-0, go out in the Champions League quarterfinals and likely win a domestic cup. We’ve seen this exact movie before—last season after the restart, when City did not have the excuse of Laporte’s fitness.
In order for this season to avoid the same fate, City’s choice must have been absolutely world-class. Something is clearly wrong, and City only have one undetermined variable left on the board. Therefore, the entirety of the season rests on the shoulders of their 23-year old defender. It’s a mountain of pressure to bear, but this is exactly what he signed up for when he chose to play for this club. He believes he is the man for the job, and now, all that remains is to prove it.