Football

Pep Guardiola hails defensive rock Ruben Dias

City have conceded just once when the Portuguese has started alongside Stones

Pep Guardiola hailed the transformative impact of Ruben Dias, after the Portugal centre-back helped turn Manchester City into the meanest defence in the English Premier League.

EPL
MANCHESTER CITY ASTON VILLA

Dias arrived from Benfica in a 68-million euro (S$109.6m) deal two days after City were thrashed 5-2 at home by Leicester City in their second league game of the season.

The 23-year-old has started all 15 league games since then and City have kept nine clean sheets to close to within two points of leaders Manchester United, with a game in hand.

"It has been massive," said Guardiola of Dias' leadership.

"He has the ability to live every single action during 95 minutes, on what he has to do and helping his mates - the fullbacks, the holding midfielders - being always concentrated.

"It is not easy to find that in someone who is 23-years-old."

Dias has struck up a formidable partnership with John Stones at the heart of the City defence, conceding just once in 10 games when they have started together.

"We knew the quality they had on the pitch, we knew a little bit their personality, but we have been impressed at the consistency to be ready mentally and physically to play every three days," added Guardiola.

"We were solid, conceding few chances and this season we don't make the mistakes that we did (in the past) to give opponents easy goals.

"You need to be good in set-pieces, good up front, good defensively, in many aspects.

"The private life of the players, physical form, being in a good mood, many things help to be champions. When one or two things drop a little, it is difficult to get it."

Despite still challenging for trophies in four competitions, Guardiola has ruled out making any more additions to his squad in the January transfer window.

A run of eight straight wins in all competitions has reinstalled City as favourites for the EPL title and they can move top of the table for the first time this season when they host Aston Villa tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

Villa's senior players will be in action for the first time since a coronavirus outbreak closed the club's training ground nearly two weeks ago, causing games against Tottenham Hotspur and Everton to be postponed.

Villa manager Dean Smith said he was taken aback by the speed of the coronavirus outbreak at the club but added there would be no excuses as they prepare to return to action.

Nine players and five employees tested positive for Covid-19 and the club's training ground was closed.

Smith's side, in 11th place, now find themselves at least two games behind the rest of the league and four fixtures behind some teams.

"Experience has taught us that it can hit you very quickly, but I'm very thankful that our doctor was quick to deal with it," he said yesterday.

"I'm not going to make any excuses - the players are ready to play. We are looking forward to this game and we don't feel that we are handicapped.

"We'll have had a three-day build-up for the Manchester City game. The first day was almost like the kids' first day back in the playground and they were full of energy and enthusiasm."

Villa now face a gruelling schedule of six games in 18 days, starting with the trip to the Etihad.

"The players that I've got here have got that hunger and desire to play football games," Smith said.

"I'm sure the majority of them would admit that six games in 18 days is better than 12 days on the training ground." - AFP

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