Another sloppy goal conceded; another lead surrendered. Newcastle’s 1-1 draw with Watford on Saturday provided further evidence of their urgent need for defensive reinforcements.
Their hunt for a new centre-back has led them to Sevilla’s Diego Carlos, who has informed his club of his desire to leave and is also attracting interest from a second Premier League side.
The 28-year-old has considerable pedigree having won the Europa League with Sevilla two years ago and claimed a gold medal with Brazil at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. But is he the answer to Newcastle’s defensive problems?
Key in Sevilla defence
While Newcastle’s defence has been among the leakiest in Europe this season – their total of 43 goals conceded is one of the highest in Europe’s major leagues – Sevilla’s has been one of the strongest.
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Julen Lopetegui’s side have only conceded 13 times in La Liga so far, giving them the joint-best defensive record in Europe’s major leagues alongside Premier League champions Manchester City.
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It has enabled them to mount a serious title challenge – they sit only four points behind leaders Real Madrid with a game in hand – and the underlying numbers further emphasise their defensive prowess.
Sevilla rank third in La Liga for expected goals against, while they sit fifth for shots faced and second for shots on target faced. Their total of 11 clean sheets is the highest in the division.
Diego Carlos has been key to that defensive excellence.
The 28-year-old, a regular starter ever since his arrival at the club from French outfit Nantes in the summer of 2019, has played more minutes in La Liga than any other Sevilla player this season – and that includes his highly-regarded centre-back partner Jules Kounde.
The Brazilian has been similarly prominent in Europe, as one of only two players to play every minute of Sevilla’s Champions League group-stage campaign this season.
Given his importance to the side, it is easy to understand why Sevilla are so reluctant to let him go.
Strengths and weaknesses
Diego Carlos stands at 6ft 1in and possesses outstanding physical qualities well-suited to the Premier League. He is strong and powerful but also quick across the turf, giving him invaluable recovery pace and allowing him to keep up with onrushing attackers.
He makes the most of his physical capabilities by defending aggressively and in a combative style.
Diego Carlos relishes duels and throws himself into aerial challenges. His total of 21 blocks is the highest in La Liga this season and underlines his willingness to put his body on the line for the team.
It also shows his knack for reading danger and appearing in the right place at the right time when defending his own box. Given the amount of time Newcastle tend to spend under pressure, those qualities would undoubtedly be useful to them.
While an excellent last-ditch defender, however, Diego Carlos is also prone to rashness with his decision-making and occasional lapses of concentration in his own defensive third.
This season, he has in fact made more individual errors leading to opposition shots than any other player in La Liga. Two of his five errors have led directly to opposition goals.
His aggression sometimes leads him to dive into challenges when he would be better off staying on his feet and he has an unfortunate habit of conceding penalties, such as against Wolves and Manchester United during Sevilla’s triumphant Europa League campaign two seasons ago.
It would be down to Eddie Howe to address the issues around his decision-making if he made the move to Newcastle but any concerns around the weaknesses in his game are offset by his passing ability as well as his defensive strengths.
Howe likes his defenders to play out from the back and Diego Carlos excels in that regard. This season in La Liga, only Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets has made more passes than him.
He plays a key role in Sevilla’s build-up play and his pass success rate of 88.4 per cent is far higher than any of Newcastle’s current central defenders. His numbers for touches, passes and passes in the opposition half are also considerably higher.
Defensive improvement is the priority for Newcastle given their current plight but Diego Carlos’ distribution could help Howe change the way they play too.
Leadership can help Howe
Diego Carlos could also provide some much-needed leadership in Newcastle’s floundering defence.
He is viewed as a key figure in the dressing room at Sevilla and his leadership qualities convinced Andre Jardine, manager of Brazil’s U23s, to include him as one of only three players over the age of 24 in his squad for the Tokyo Olympics last summer along with goalkeeper Santos and defender Dani Alves.
An unnamed Premier League club have matched Newcastle’s offer for Sevilla defender Diego Carlos and an Italian team have also made a bid
“Us three have a bit more responsibility,” said Diego Carlos ahead of the tournament. “I am very happy with the vote of confidence.”
The centre-back duly embraced that responsibility, starting all six of Brazil’s fixtures and playing a key role as they overcame Spain in the final to claim gold.
How Newcastle must crave that same kind of authority and leadership. After Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Watford at St James’ Park, they have now lost 21 points from winning positions over the course of the Premier League campaign.
It is an alarming statistic which underlines their fragility in defence but their hope, if they can get the deal over the line, is that Diego Carlos would strengthen them in more ways than one.
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