Ruben Dias is having the same effect on Manchester City as Virgil van Dijk’s influence when he arrived at Liverpool.
He is shoring up a defence which had sprung a few leaks – and he could lead them to the title.
At £61.2 million, City knew they were getting a top-quality centre-back when Dias moved to the Etihad last September.
But the Portugese defender’s impact has been startling.
Where Liverpool won 13 of their first 23 games, and kept 10 clean sheets, after signing Van Dijk – for my money, the best central defender in the world when he was fit and at full power – Dias has been a revelation.
Over the same distance, he has helped City to win 16 of his first 23 games, with 15 clean sheets and only nine goals conceded (where Liverpool conceded 24).
And he has brought the best out of John Stones, whose promise appeared to have hit a glass ceiling but now looks like a talent reborn playing alongside Dias.
Look at every title-winning side in the Premier League era and you will find a combination in central defence at the heart of it.
During the Fergie years Manchester United had Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, then Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic; Arsenal had Tony Adams and Steve Bould, then Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure; Chelsea had John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho; and Leicester’s 5,000-1 miracles had Wes Morgan and Robert Huth.
Now City’s surge to the Premier League summit has been built on an axis of Dias and Stones.
Their defensive record – 13 goals conceded in 19 games – is by far the meanest in the top flight (Tottenham and Arsenal have the next-best record, with 20 each).
There is a long way to go, and in an unprecedented season there will be more twists and turns, but I suspect it will now be another shoot-out between City and Liverpool for the title.
Liverpool’s win at Tottenham on Thursday night will have restored some belief in their challenge, but Van Dijk’s absence has been telling.
Before VVD arrived at Anfield, in three previous seasons Liverpool had conceded an average of 1.3, 1.1 and 1.0 goals per game.
In Van Dijk’s first full season, that went down to 0.6 goals per game conceded, and last year’s record of 0.9 was tilted a little by the 12 goals they conceded in seven games after the title was won.
This season, in his absence, it’s back up to 1.2 goals per game – although they have had issues at the other end of the pitch, too.
With Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez all injured to varying degrees, manager Jurgen Klopp has had to patch up his defence with midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson.
And the transfer of that midfield power to other areas of the pitch has possibly affected servive to the front line.
In order, from his first season in 2015-16, Klopp’s team has scored 1.7, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 and 2.2 goals per game – but so far, that output is down to 1.9 goals per game in 2020-21.
To me, that shows Liverpool’s title-winning strength began at the back and gave their front three of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane a licence to run amok.
And that’s why Ruben Dias has become the rock on which Pep Guardiola has turned Manchester City into front-runners again.