“You were all wrong!”
When David Luiz re-signed for Chelsea I was getting plenty of stick. Knowing that I’ve always advocated flair centre backs and defended Luiz at every opportunity, all the “sideshow Bob” jokes came flooding in. Three months later and I’m looking into changing my network provider because the only explanation for the non-existence of witticisms must be bad signal .
Or is the truth what I’ve always maintained? David Luiz is a class footballer and more than competent defender. In actual fact the very reason Luiz isn’t appreciated (and England’s John Stones for that matter) is exactly why England don’t win major trophies. It’s the same with Hoddle, Le Tissier, Barnes and many others.
Antonio Conte forked out £30m to re-sign Luiz, and he’ll be glad that he did. Calamitous Cahill should thank his lucky stars he’s got two central defenders next to him to compensate for his deficiencies as a player. There’s no two ways about it; the 29-year-old has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season. Chelsea haven’t conceded a goal in six league matches – Mesut Ozil, on September 24, was the last man to score past Thibaut Courtois – and Luiz has played a big part in the Blues’ defensive success.
So what’s made all the difference? Conte’s 3-4-3 system has allowed David Luiz to flourish in the middle of the back three supported by Cesar Azpilicueta on the right and Gary Cahill to his left. As discussed on the podcast this week, the presence of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses in the wing-back positions mean Chelsea can switch to a back four or five depending on the defensive discipline of the aforementioned wing-backs.
N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in front of him provide further assurance, which means Luiz doesn’t need to be concerned about being pulled out of position. In possession, Luiz continues to make full use of his well-honed ball skills and passing range (87% pass completion rate) to set Chelsea on the attack. For example at Middlesbrough, Luiz at one point won the ball, pushed on and played a superb diagonal ball into Diego Costa, who set up Pedro for a chance that came back off the crossbar. Chelsea are profiting from the supply of his effective passes from deep lying position
It’s clear that the former PSG man is enjoying himself. “The spirit is amazing and when you have this team spirit, this makes the difference,” he said after the 1-0 win against Middlesbrough on Sunday. A player like Luiz needs to be given freedom. Take this surging run against on Sunday just gone. A more cautious manager might have told him to pass the ball off as soon as he won it in midfield. The Brazilian completely marked Negredo out of the game. The doubters are being proved wrong, as the Brazilian finds some of the best form of his career in a system that suits him perfectly. And he may yet be a league champion for the third year on the bounce.
In reality, Luiz was never as bad as people loved making out. He took educated risks to stop attackers building up motion.. The way I’ve always described Luiz’s style of defending is calculated risk taking. If he makes the tackle you don’t get much credit, if you mistime the tackle you’re the villain. Let me explain. Spurs are on the attack with Alli in possession of the ball. Luiz is left outnumbered and marks the natural space in between the Alli and Kane. Alli rolls the ball to Kane who scores. No-one takes the blame. Alli smashes it in from 25 yards. Again, no blame.
Same scenario again but Luiz rushes out and tries to intercept the ball from Alli before he can build up momentum. If he makes the tackle then he’s done his job. If he doesn’t then he looks foolish for rushing out and takes the blame for the goal. My point is that when Luiz came rushing out there was always a decent chance of the opposition scoring anyway.
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He was just willing to put himself on the line and take the risk to prevent a goal. It’s a gamble. No-one remembers these intercepting incidents because there’s no hypothetical test to see whether a goal would have been scored regardless of his actions. Additionally, if you attempt five audacious passes and one goes wrong then you’ll be remembered for the latter. How about the passes that created chances?
There has been an abundance of skills, free-kicks and timely interceptions. However, the most poignant moment for me came a few weeks ago when David Luiz risked injury to prevent a corner, and concede a throw instead. The whole of the Stamford bridge faithful stood up and applauded. Most of them have already been proved wrong. As have most of you. Gary Neville once described David Luiz as “a player seemingly controlled by a kid playing play-station”. Interesting description. That kid must be quite good.
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