A comfortable win for Man City in the end but not an evening Ruben Dias will remember fondly

Luke Edwards
·4 min read
Ruben Dias (left) struggles to contain the threat of Porto's Luis Diaz - GETTY IMAGES
Ruben Dias (left) struggles to contain the threat of Porto's Luis Diaz - GETTY IMAGES

Ruben Dias is not the first expensive signing Pep Guardiola has made to try and solve Manchester City’s defensive frailties, but given the vast sums wasted, he really should be the last.

Dias cannot be blamed for what came before him, but that does not reduce the pressure to justify another extravagant transfer fee.

Even the money men at a club with City’s vast wealth must break out in a sweat, undo the top button of their shirt and loosen their ties when they look at the money spent on defenders since Guardiola arrived in 2016.

When Dias arrived from Benfica in the summer for £65.2 million, it took the total to a conservative estimate of £408m. No matter how many times you tell yourself they can afford it, or say look at the trophies Guardiola has won, it does not hide the fact City have been reckless and ripped off.

City have spent more money on average defenders than most Premier League clubs have spent on players in the last four years. Fine when you are winning big trophies, doing a clean sweep of the domestic titles in 2019, but questions start to be asked when all you have got to show for last season’s efforts are a third successive Carabao Cup trophy.

Of course, it may not come as much of a surprise to learn that a manager who once said he was not interested in coaching players how to tackle does not appear to be very good at identifying those who can defend in the Premier League, but it does not reflect well on anyone involved in recruitment when it is this scattergun and flawed.

It makes Dias’ arrival more significant and it is perhaps the waste of money that has come before that persuaded City to sign a 23-year-old centre back rather than an older, more experienced, more battle-hardened alternative. When you have got used to these signings not working out you need to be conscious of resale value.

Ruben Dias (right) receives direction from Nathan Ake - PA
Ruben Dias (right) receives direction from Nathan Ake - PA

None of this is Dias' fault and he has looked good so far in the Premier League, even if City have kept only two clean sheets.

The Portugal international certainly has the appearance of a world-class centre-back. The chest-out strut, nonchalant stroll after making a pass, the air of calm on the ball and arms held as though he has a carpet under each of them. It is the, “I am in control, nothing will get past me”, look every defender seems to adopt these days.

It may sound a little old fashioned, but defenders do not have to look good to be effective. They need to be adroit at blocking, tackling, heading, positioning, clearing, and competent enough on the ball to pass it five to 15 yards. Just an idea.

When you have been signed to try and help your new club win the Champions League, what you do not want to do in your first European appearance is give the ball away inside your own half, get into a flap, retreat from the attacking player running at you, let him cut inside and put the opposition in front, which is precisely what Luis Diaz did for Porto after he had passed to him.

Not a great start and it could have been worse for Dias who also played a pass to goalkeeper Ederson that put him under too much pressure, leading to a mistake that Porto should have scored from. Only a superb clearance from Kyle Walker stopped him from adding an own goal to his night too.

At least he fared better than his international teammate Joao Cancelo, a snip at £60m from Juventus last year, who barely did a thing right, picked up a booking and wore the look of a man who left the house not sure if he had left his keys hanging out of the front door.

City were not at their best, from front to back, but won comfortably in the end because they are a brilliant attacking team. We already knew that.

It is impossible to draw any definitive conclusions about Dias – who had very little to do in the second half - based on one loose pass. Every player fresh to the Premier League needs time to settle; to adjust. But City defenders are under the spotlight and every mistake will be forensically examined.

And, on the night, the best defender on show was Porto’s Chancel Mbemba, sold to Porto by Rafa Benitez from Newcastle United for £7.1m in 2018. The asking price, if City enquire next summer, will be £65m.