When you think of solid, world-beating central defenders, nations like Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany come to mind. Surely a young Portuguese lad from the suburbs of Lisbon could not impress the biggest teams in the world? Ruben Dias’ £87 million release clause would say otherwise.
Being compared to Matthijs de Ligt, Milan Škriniar and Niklas Süle, Benfica definitely have a highly touted young superstar on their books. Bruno Lage, being a new manager in the professional game, desperately desired a solid core to base his new Benfica defence around; Dias has ensured Lage had the best possible start to his career in Portugal – winning the Primeira Liga at the first time of asking.
In this tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, we will analyse some of the key aspects of Dias’ game. We will discuss how he makes Benfica’s backline tick, and how he is becoming a gladiator and leader for both club and country.
Dominance in Defence
Sharing the centre of defence with Brazilian partner Jardel, Ruben Dias is the primary individual in the backline. With Benfica dominating most of the ball in Liga NOS, Dias makes most of his tackles and is involved in duels higher up inside his own third than a normal centre-back.
According to Wyscout analysis, Dias has a high statistic of 65.87% of defensive duels won in the 2019/20 season, as well as 4.49 defensive duels per 90; a statistic that is low only due to Benfica’s ball dominance. Dias is attracting attention from the biggest teams around the globe due to Benfica’s attractive high-press defensive system. When they do lose the ball, and opposition teams attempt to play over the top, Dias has the presence and ability to step out of the backline to win aerial duels and dominate in the air. Dias has an impressive 56.86% aerial duel success rate, with a much higher 85.24% when further up inside his own defensive third.
On many occasions, Dias is the player to push forward and approach on-rushing attackers. Whilst moving out of the defence is a risky move, leaving space in behind, Dias understands that with the high defensive line causing an offside trap, he has the change to enforce a turnover.
He can be often seen pushing out attackers into wide positions. There is often a large space between the Benfica central defensive midfielder Ljubomir Fejsa and the defensive line. Along with the full-backs pushing high during attacks, it would generally mean that Benfica are susceptible to counterattacks. However, Dias’ high pressing defensive style forces attackers to wing areas, allowing time for Benfica players to come back and defend.
If a young centre-back wants to become successful and play for a big club in 2020, passing and technical ability is key, especially in a team that plays a lot of the ball. Benfica do not possess the most technically gifted central midfielders, apart from playmaker Pizzi. This means that most offensive plays occur with their wing-backs and attacking wingers. Their left-side of Alex Grimaldo and Franco Cervi combine well to become one of the most devastating wing combinations in the league. Before spreading to the wings, Benfica concentrate on ball rotation between the centre-backs, before spraying long diagonal balls to the wingers. This is where Dias shines. He has an amazing statistic of 11.74 progressive passes per 90 minutes, along with an 85.7% passing accuracy, comfortably placing him in the top ten in the league for both categories. The next image shows a common example of a long ball to left-back Grimaldo.
If you have not fully watched Benfica play before, the Dias to left-hand side passing combination is a huge part of their tactical arrangement. Dias has an amazing range of passing, from diagonal punts to defence-splitting crosses and floor vertical passes through defensive lines.
This image shows Dias’ involvement in Benfica’s deep-starting counterattacks, illustrating his qualities and intelligence on the ball. The arrows indicate his understanding with the rest of the team, as he receives the ball and quickly passes out to the influential wing players.
He has the natural vision to spot a pass behind a defensive line. Dias has all the modern attributes needed by a centre-back playing in the fast-paced game. He has a phenomenal range of passing, combined with solid passing success rates and exceptional vision. He would fit perfectly into any top side with touchline-hugging wingers, such as Manchester City or Liverpool.
For Club and Country
Dias has broken his way into a team full to the brim with superstars; namely Bruno Fernandes, João Félix, Bernardo Silva, and Cristiano Ronaldo. He has built a solid central defensive partnership with the exuberant Pepe, and the pair have become a formidable force in the European football scene. His vocal and commanding leadership style has him tipped to be the next captain for A Seleção, after Ronaldo’s seemingly never-ending reign.
Dias has the same playing style in his national side, where he plays invasive diagonal balls to the left-wing.
This image shows an almost identical relationship between Dias and Portugal left-back Raphael Guerreiro, compared to his Benfica counterpart Grimaldo. Dias often receives the ball and spreads passes to either wing to start attacks. The comfort of playing with similar tactics and formation for club and country evidently supplements Dias’ game.
Using the Space
More so for Benfica than his national side, Dias is not afraid to take the ball and drive into gaps in the opposition’s midfield. The spread of the wingers in wide areas allows plenty of room in the middle of the park. Dias often takes the ball from deep and into dangerous positions to either cross to lay off to one of the playmakers. This is done as players approach him, leaving space in the final third for attackers. This means that oppositions are unsure whether to close him to stop the 40-yard passes or back off to prevent gaps appearing for crosses.
This action was most clearly seen in this 4-0 away win at Moreirense when Dias is seen to be often driving into space between the Moreirense attackers and midfield. This is comparable to Harry Maguire’s role at Manchester United, and Virgil Van Dijk at Liverpool, where they almost play as an extra central midfielder when in possession of the ball.
Despite signing a new contract in November 2019 that is due to keep Dias at the Eagles until 2024, it is obvious that Benfica are ensuring they can get the most of their promising starlet before he moves onto bigger and better things. Fans of the English game hope to see Dias in the Premier League in the coming seasons, with Manchester United, Tottenham and Manchester City fighting for his signature. On the international scene, it seems Portugal are a team full of wonder kids, lead by the experienced Ronaldo, but a second-in-command Dias seems destined to fit in at the realm.