Replacing Vincent Kompany was always going to be a daunting task for Pep Guardiola.
You only have to look at how City fared in their first season without the big Belgian’s influence on the pitch and in the dressing room.
2019/20 wasn’t a disaster for them by any means. Two trophies and a second-placed finish would constitute a resounding success for any other team in the division, but by their own lofty standards, there was a significant drop-off that centred around a lack of leadership and direction at the back.
So it’s no coincidence that now City have settled on a viable replacement for their long-serving captain, they are right back at the top of their game.
While the Blues’ record at signing centre-backs is patchy at best, it was obvious from the start that Ruben Dias was a solid addition. Every report that came out of Portugal sung his praises to the heavens: he was dominant, he was a leader, and he knew how to play football with a ball at his feet.
He sounded like he was exactly what Pep Guardiola needed, but few could ever have imagined he would take to the Premier League so quickly or so well.
He has stepped straight in and immediately transformed City from a side struggling with their own identity into one that may be more dominant than ever before.
That seems like a stretch to say, considering they finished some 14 points short of the Centurions of 2018, but City with Dias in the team have been insane. They’ve lost just five of the 52 matches in which he has featured, and conceded just 27 goals while he’s been on the pitch.
Those are Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool numbers, and he’s done it all while averaging a 93% pass success rate…a better ratio than the Dutchman has managed since joining Liverpool.
What is less tangible about the impact Dias has made, though, is the shift in mentality that has helped them get the monkey off their back in the Champions League. While there have been other factors at play, there is no chance it’s entirely coincidental that his first season in Manchester is also the year City have made the final for the first time in their history.
Comparisons with Kompany, one of the Premier League’s all-time greats, may seem a bit premature after one spectacular season. But 52 games is no small sample size to judge someone on, and the impact he has made is demonstrable both in City’s results and in their play.
They are a far more controlled, composed unit, and they look more prepared than ever to take the final step and win the Champions League.
Whisper it for now, but City might have finally found an adequate replacement for their best defender ever. That’s ominous, both for the Premier League and the rest of Europe.