Man City reacted to their shock 5-2 defeat to Leicester last weekend by forking out £65million on new centre-back Ruben Dias – who was thrown straight in for his debut at Leeds on Saturday.
Dias’s signing took Pep Guardiola’s spending on defenders over the £400m mark, but there has never been as much pressure on his previous acquisitions.
Already the 23-year-old has been billed as the belated replacement for City legend Vincent Company – a significantly hard act to follow.
Boss Pep Guardiola was less than keen on selecting Dias in his starting lineup though, stating injury issues had forced his hand.
“As soon as possible he starts,” Guardiola said. “He will adapt but Eric [Garcia] has some niggles in the hamstrings and John [Stones] was out for 10 days, so we don’t have much options.”
Asked what Dias would bring to his side, Guardiola added: “I think he has a good personality, good in the header, good in the build-up, intelligent in a tactical way.
“That’s why we made a good effort thanks to the club to bring him here. Ruben is young, 23-years-old so we have time to improve.”
Initially it looked as though throwing him in straight away was a blessing, as the game began as the perfect scenario for Dias to bed himself in.
Much has been made of Dias’s ability in possession and in playing out from the back, and the slick,wet surface at Elland Road was ideal for City’s style.
The visitors dominated possession early on, moving the ball around freely as Leeds were often left chasing shadows.
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It played to Dias’s strengths, as City were even able to skip round Leeds’ energetic high press with relative ease.
He showed comfortable initial touches before pinging a pass 30-yard pass into Raheem Sterling’s chest.
A hopeful shout for a handball followed after venturing forward for a corner and heading off Leeds’ Liam Cooper.
He was then handed a glorious chance to put City ahead with their first real opportunity of the game, but fluffed his lines and skewed his header wide, despite pulling away from his marker.
It was a simple header, and were it not 10 minutes into his debut you’d perhaps be more critical of him to do better.
Any focus on that miss was then alleviated slightly soon after as Sterling cut inside on his right foot and buried a low shot into the corner to put City in front just 17 minutes in.
Dias had barely been troubled by this point.
In fact his biggest defensive contribution of the first half was snuffing out the danger by anticipating and heading clear a fizzing through ball, though that in itself was little more than routine.
Leeds showed more of a threat as the first half wore on, even forcing Ederson into a save, but that attack came from a Benjamin Mendy mistake on the opposite side to Dias.
It’s perhaps a little ironic that as City have moved to try and solve one defensive issue, another becomes glaringly more obvious.
Gary Neville said to co-commentator Martin Tyler: “You mentioned earlier that Man City might be signing another left-back and that is why – he is not alert, Mendy.”
Therein lies the problem for Guardiola, that the arrival of Diaz will probably not be the solution to all their issues.
Nathan Ake has arrived too, but he was only handed a place on the bench and looks to be fulfilling the expected role as back-up to Aymeric Laporte.
Dias was called into his first real piece of defensive action immediately after the half-time break, as he got across quickly to deflect Patrick Bamford’s shot out for a corner.
His next situation was less convincing as he backed off into his own box when faced with a one-on-one with Rodrigo, though it was some fancy footwork from the Spain international.
Leeds’ record signing showed quick feet to side-step Dias but his shot was tipped onto the crossbar by Ederson, before the substitute levelled the scoring from the subsequent corner.
A lack of communication with Laporte then left City in a 3-on-2 which almost caused them to fall behind.
Dias opted to challenge for the header with Bamford, leaving Rodrigo free behind him, whose header was tipped onto the woodwork again by Ederson.
City escaped unscathed, before Dias stopped a cross in the following passage of play with a superb slide tackle, then winning a free-kick with some more astute defending.
He then showed his aerial prowess, leaping high to beat Bamford to a header on the halfway line – a characteristic which some of City’s current crop have struggled to display.
The longer the game went on the more erratic each team’s approach became, making it a trickier evening’s work for Dias in his new surroundings, but he coped well until the game eventually ended in a draw.
It’s difficult to judge a book by its cover, as 90 minutes proved, but City’s next two fixtures – at home to Arsenal, then Porto – should give us a better idea of his capabilities.
He was only unveiled as a City player on Tuesday, and has plenty to learn about his new team’s style and approach.
Certainly from a ball playing perspective, Dias fits the bill for City, and oozed composure each time he was in possession.
Defensively he dealt with what much of what he had to with a calm yet sturdy approach, but it’s still early days and Leeds hardly gave him the most intense workout, bar his showdown with Rodrigo.
What are your thoughts on Dias’s Man City debut? Have your say below.
City clearly feel he’s the answer. Over 130 games for Benfica and a league winners medal in Portugal provide some support to their hopes; and alongside Laporte, 26, there is potential for a lengthy partnership.
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp said: “I thought the defensive mistakes came more from the full-backs today.
“Dias made some great challenges, Laporte got caught a couple of times but that looks like it’s got the makings of a good partnership.
“The two centre-backs looked very good. They’ve got a player there.”
Micah Richards added: “I thought he was good, composed. We mentioned before the game it was too much pressure on his shoulders comparing him to Kompany for a 23-year-old.
“I thought he and, like Jamie said, the two centre-backs, did really well.
“Sometimes I think it’s difficult when you’ve got two full-backs who want to get forward, you do leave your centre-backs exposed.
“For a debut I really think he did well today.”
The bigger tests will no doubt come further down the line for Dias, but as far as first impressions go, he’s off to a decent start.
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