Pep Guardiola has a new unstoppable requirement for Manchester City’s success.
Manchester City appear to have hit a turning point and one player has been a huge help in making it happen.
This season has seen several significant differences at Manchester City.
The summer saw the departure of seasoned old guards and the arrival of new blood. Instead of false-9s, they’re now using a genuine striker. Kevin De Bruyne has not been at his best, while Jack Grealish is improving. Pep Guardiola has used midfielders as full-backs as well as full-backs as midfielders. That has actually happened quite a few times.
But, one significant distinction has been the insecurity in defense. City have always had a lot of choices at center-back, but in recent years, the manager has tended to pick on his favorite pairing and stay with it for big games. Guardiola has not changed a partnership that has flourished and constantly plays well, whether it is John Stones and Aymeric Laporte, Ruben Dias and Laporte, or Stones and Dias. Those who are not in the ideal duo are frequently left twiddling their thumbs.
Yet, this season has been far more chaotic. Guardiola has yet to decide on his ideal defensive line-up due to injuries, rotation, and formation changes. This season, Dias, Stones, Laporte, Nathan Ake, Manuel Akanji, Kyle Walker, and even Rodri have all played at centre-back, not to mention the experiments at left-back.
It’s not unexpected that City has appeared off-kilter and significantly less defensively solid as a result this season. Yet, there has been a noticeable improvement in recent weeks, and the Blues are beginning to resemble their clinical and ruthlessly efficient selves. It coincides with Dias’ return to the starting lineup.
The defensive veteran was in and out of the lineup during the first part of the season and was out for a while following the World Cup due to a hamstring injury. He is now fully recovered and has started the last six games. The difference has been dramatic.
City is still conceding, but the amount is decreasing. In the last six games, five goals have been surrendered, compared to seven in the previous six. More crucially, the majority of City’s goals are now much less costly, with two of the five being late consolation goals rather than five of the previous seven resulting in defeat.
It goes even further. Since the World Cup, City hasn’t lost when Dias has played, and their lone defeat this season, against Liverpool, came with Dias on the field. When Dias is on the field, City concedes fewer goals and wins more.
Yet, they have been performing well as well. Whilst City have endured disappointing draws against Nottingham Forest and RB Leipzig, they played well in both games and were unlucky not to win comfortably. Instead of the bland and uninspiring performances they delivered in January.
City have looked considerably more assured since Dias’ return. They are self-assured in their talents. The foundations are secure enough for the rest of the crew to work their magic.
Guardiola has decried the absence of character and leadership at times this season, but Dias has brought that back to the team, and it’s no surprise the manager’s attitude has improved. Dias has reignited the fire and ambition within City, whether it’s marshalling the backline, protecting teammates, or celebrating blocks like goals.
There is still a lot of glory on the line this season, and Dias must remain in the team if City are to win it.