Ruben Dias’ brilliance shows Pep Guardiola should still sign new Man City striker

There were multiple elements to Manchester CIty’s dominant campaign last season.

Ilkay Gundogan produced the most prolific season of his career from midfield to be the team’s unlikely top scorer, Phil Foden enjoyed a breakout campaign on the left-wing, Kevin De Bruyne frequently took the breath away and collected his second successive PFA Players’ Player of the Year award.

John Stones was a player reborn and Joao Cancelo’s mid-season turn as a right-back-cum-attacking-midfielder showed Pep Guardiola’s capacity for ingenuity was alive and well.

But one factor stands above all others as an obvious before-and-after moment, without which Premier League and Carabao Cup glory would not have been possible.

On September 27, City were hammered 5-2 in their first home game of the season by Leicester, looking like anything but prospective champions. On September 29, they signed Ruben Dias from Benfica.

Dias, whose imperious debut season in England saw him rewarded with a bumper new contract until June 2027 on Monday, instantly raised the standards of all around him in the defensive unit. It is impossible to imagine anything like the Leicester debacle with him around.

Follow the leader

A comb through City’s squad statistics for last season essentially amounts to the Ruben Dias Show.

No one played more minutes (4,330) than the Portugal international, who fitted seamlessly into Guardiola’s chosen style as he attempted, completed and received more passes than any of his team-mates.

It will come as no surprise that Dias’s 60 blocks overall, with 33 from shots and 27 thwarting passes placed him top within the squad, as did 149 clearances.

Unfortunately, the good people at FBref do not collect statistics for most high fives and bear hugs with defensive colleagues. Ruben would be in a class of his own there.

Manchester City's Portuguese defender Ruben Dias (L) celebrates with Manchester City's English defender John Stones after the final whistle during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on February 27, 2021. - Manchester City won the match 2-0. (Photo by Gareth Copley / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / )
Ruben Dias and John Stones struck up a fine on-field relationship

Competition for places at centre-back, as is the case for most other positions in Guardiola’s squad, is fierce. Aymeric Laporte has started 2021/22 impressively having been displaced by England international Stones last time around.

That’s something the two stylish stoppers are going to have to sort out among themselves because Dias is indisputably one of the first names on the teamsheet.

Three is the magic number

This, in itself, is an incredible turn of events given that this time last year, the 24-year-old was certainly not the first name on City’s wanted list.

Napoli powerhouse Kalidou Koulibaly was the number one target, although trying to successfully woo Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis is probably inked alongside “hoping Daniel Levy picks up his phone” in Txiki Begiristain’s notes on fun summertime activities.

Then there was Jules Koundé, whose exceptional qualities displayed at Sevilla now have Chelsea on his tail. But throwing the young Frenchman straight into a defence shellacked by Jamie Vardy and his chums really could have gone either way.

We should not forget that City’s totemic number three was their third choice.

Dias was not Guardiola’s ideal man but he was the man he needed – a born leader able to imbue some of the more jaded members of the dressing room with a fresh sense of purpose.

Ruben’s Kane lesson for City

For this reason, Dias’ renewal and the lessons of his signing feel very timely after City did not get Harry Kane, their number one choice to replace Sergio Aguero.

In 2019, while acknowledging the mitigating circumstances of being caught on the hop by Vincent Kompany’s departure and having no wriggle room within the squad’s overseas quota, the Blues did not get Harry Maguire and opted to muddle on with what they had in defence.

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The difference in outcomes between 2019/20 and last season after Dias’ arrival was huge.

Over the past two weekends, City have been wonderful to watch but not all opponents will wilt as readily as Norwich and Arsenal.

There will be other strikers on Guardiola and Begiristain’s lists because the whole CFG operation is utterly meticulous in the transfer market.

The success of the man with a richly deserved new contract shows they should still be exploring the option of finding a Ruben Dias for the other penalty box, rather than risking an area of need going untended again.

Where does Ruben Dias rank within the best signings of the Guardiola era? Follow our City Fan Brands Editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.