If we were to write about two defenders, one Italian and one Brazilian, creating a key partnership and foundation on which their team’s success is built this season, many would assume the two defenders are Milan’s Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva. But they are not the only team in Serie A this season with a successful Italian-Brazilian defensive duo – third placed Lazio have a pair of central defenders who are playing a huge part in their side’s maintenance of a top four position – Giuseppe Biava and André Dias.
They arrived in the January window last season and eventually started under new Coach Edoardo Reja in his favoured 3-5-2. This season, however, Reja discontinued that system after a 2-0 defeat to Sampdoria in Week 1 and changed to a conventional back four for the following game – Biava and André Dias have been his first choice pairing for the centre of defence ever since, starting 17 of the 19 games so far this season together. Only 14 goals have been conceded in those 17 games, with 10 wins being returned. In the two games in which one or the other was missing, Lazio lost, which includes last weekend’s game at home to Lecce (the other was against Roma).
They have developed a wonderful partnership which helps to cover for their individual frailties. Biava’s reading of the game is, at times, excellent. It is no coincidence that his last two clubs (Genoa and Palermo) finished in the European places after seasons where he was a regular. Every defence needs a player with Biava’s cultured ability to win the ball before it reaches the player, and not just two brutes that have to go through players to get it. Despite this, he is a less rounded defender than his Brazilian partner, and thus the weaker of the two.
Problems arise with Biava when he is challenged aerially. At just under six foot, he is not the tallest, but then Fabio Cannavaro was even smaller and his aerial ability was rarely questioned. A number of goals have been leaked this season as a result of Biava losing out to an opponent in the air – Germán Denis, Hernán Crespo and Matías Silvestre have all found the net having beaten him to an aerial ball. It is a weakness that desperately needs addressing, because opposition strikers are starting to target him in a way they would target a full-back by dropping onto them.
André Dias has no such trouble aerially, and his ability to cover ground quickly and play the ball out effectively (Biava has been caught a couple of times this season with the ball at his feet) edges him ahead of the Italian as the better all-round defender. He was the sweeper when Reja played 3-5-2, and his role in the back four this season suggests he is happy to play as close to that of a sweeper as is possible. He is more than happy to let Biava move forward and attack the ball, using his ability to read the game, while he lingers back and mops up if a mistake is made.
A perfect illustration of this can be seen below. Biava steps out to intercept Wesley Sneijder’s pass to Goran Pandev, and actually gets a touch, but not enough to take it away from the Macedonian. Pandev continues his run, and his met by the sweeping André Dias, who is unlucky to see his excellent block of the shot fall perfectly for the Inter man to tuck away. They may have conceded a goal on that occasion, but this duo have been working in tandem to great effect so far this season, and there is nothing to suggest that will not continue.