It was a day for unlikely heroes in Manchester.
John Stones scored his first goal in three years, Fernandinho his first in two, as Pep Guardiola’s City slickers sauntered into the League Cup final for a fourth successive season, defeating arch rivals United 2-0 at Old Trafford.
But while the rock-solid Stones continued his recent revival with a telling impact at both ends of the pitch, it was his centre-back partner who had Guardiola purring.
“Ruben (Dias) lives with football 24 hours and he is giving us something special,” said a coach who has worked with some of the finest defenders of the 21st century, from Carles Puyol to Vincent Kompany, Jerome Boateng to Gerard Pique.
“He will be outstanding for many years to come.”
Like his Portugal international teammate Bruno Fernandes, Dias has made the not-insignificant step up from the Primeira Liga to the Premier League look startlingly small.
Manchester City’s previously porous backline has now conceded just three times in their last ten games, with the £65 million Dias a steel-capped combat boot protecting a well-publicised Achilles heel.
In fact, City now have the best defensive record in the Premier League, conceding 13 goals to Tottenham Hotspur’s 15.
Yet if Spurs had signed Dias instead, we would probably be writing the above sentence the other way around. Fabrizio Romano, in his Here We Go podcast, explained that Tottenham had a deal all-but done for the former Benfica star before City came calling.
“Mourinho had contact with him and had convinced him to come,” Romano said.
“Ruben Dias was really ready to join Tottenham, he had personal terms agreed, if Tottenham had found agreement with Benfica Ruben Dias was (a) Tottenham player.”
You get the feeling that this is not the first time Spurs fans will be wishing they could turn back the clock and get a deal for Dias over the line.