From Diogo Costa to Rafael Leão, from Florentino Luís to Jota, we’ve seen several members of Portugal’s class of 1999 emerge as key players for their teams over the past two seasons, including Manchester United fullback Diogo Dalot.
Born in Braga, Dalot joined Porto’s academy in 2008 and quickly rose up the ranks for club and country, winning the 2016 U-17 Euros, finishing as runners-up in the 2017 U-19 Euros, and making his first-team debut for Porto on October 13, 2017, in a Taça de Portugal match. Dalot would make just seven more appearances in 2017/18, six in the Primeira Liga and one in the Champions League, before moving to Manchester United for £19 million.
He would rack up 23 appearances across his debut campaign, but his minutes took a nosedive following the arrival of Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace, prompting him to head out on loan to Milan. Dalot would become a valuable option at right back and left back, making 33 appearances under Stefano Pioli as the Rossoneri reached the Europa League Round of 16 and Coppa Italia quarterfinals, as well as qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2013/14.
Dalot would play a key role in Portugal’s run to the 2021 U-21 Euros Final, where they would lose 1-0 to Germany, before making his senior team debut three weeks later, replacing João Cancelo in Fernando Santos’ Euros squad after the City fullback tested positive for COVID-19 and coming off the bench against France as well as starting in the Round of 16 match against Belgium.
He returned from his loan spell and would make 30 appearances in all competitions in what would prove to be a fairly turbulent campaign for the Red Devils. Under the management of Erik ten Hag, Dalot has been able to take his game to another level, becoming a regular performer at right back with 36 appearances so far in all competitions. Whilst Aaron Wan-Bissaka remains a fierce competitor for the starting spot, Dalot has taken his performances to new heights at 24 years of age.
2. Diogo Dalot ('99). When he was 6, he trained with players 3 years older than him. When he was 16, he was called up to Porto's first team. Dalot has always been top of his class; he's an active RB who knows when to join the attack, when to tackle, and where to position himself. pic.twitter.com/a6KIIWHUIU
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) November 1, 2018
Dalot made his 100th appearance on April 16, filling in at left back with Luke Shaw unavailable, completing two key passes, two tackles, one interception, winning two out of two ground duels and two out of four aerial duels to hold Nottingham Forest to a clean sheet at City Ground. He doubled the lead in the 76th minute, making a run towards the edge of the box, getting onto the end of a through ball from Antony, taking a touch and firing past Keylor Navas to secure a 2-0 victory.
In doing so, Dalot not only gave Manchester United a three-point lead over Newcastle and a six-point lead over fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, but he also scored his first Premier League goal since arriving in 2018. It was the culmination of a brilliant combination and a selfless run from Dalot, who has recorded the fastest speed of any right back in the Premier League this season with a top speed of 35.76 km/h.
The Portuguese full-back is the second-quickest defender in the league behind Kieran Tierney of Arsenal, whilst he ranks in the 91st percentile for fullbacks in Europe’s top five leagues for interceptions with 1.58 per 90, per FBRef. He stands out in attacking metrics as well, with his non-penalty xG of 0.09 ranking in the 85th percentile and producing more progressive passes this season than any United player this season besides Christian Eriksen.
Dalot played the full 90 in United’s 3-0 defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League and their 0-0 draw against Brighton in the FA Cup semifinal, scoring United’s second penalty as the Red Devils progressed to the final after winning 7-6 in the shootout. He has also made significant strides at the national team level this season, starting in Portugal’s last three World Cup matches under Fernando Santos as well as playing the full 90 in their 6-0 win against Luxembourg in Euro qualifying, and he could be set to stake a claim for a starting position under Domenico Tedesco.
With an ability to drive the ball up the pitch as well as close down space on the counter and protect his team defensively, Diogo Dalot looks set to play a key role for club and country over the next few years.
By: Zach Lowy / @ZachLowy
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Ash Donelon / Man United