David Luiz – Evolution of the centre back

It has been fourteen months since the Brazilian arrived at Stamford Bridge, it didn’t take long to realise that there was something special about him and that his time at the club would be if anything, entertaining. From his first start at Fulham, where he performed an overhead kick cross in the opposition area to his conceding of a late penalty. There were early signs that the eccentric centre back would provide highs and lows and he hasn’t failed to disappoint.

Since then there has been constant debate as to whether David Luiz is good enough? or what his best position may even be? This is the debate that argues why David Luiz will become the best defender in the world. 

The game of football is constantly evolving, arguably one of the biggest changes in recent years is what is expected of wingers after the achievements of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The role of a centre back is no different, the traditional perception of a defender is powerful in build, a player that relishes physical contests and due to being not the most technically able, they are players with a no nonsense attitude when on the ball, cheered for launching loose balls into row Z. Well, what if a centre back was technically as good as any other player on the team?

The immediate difference from David Luiz to most defenders in the world and not just the premiership is the undoubted, incredible footballing talent. He is among the most technically gifted footballers in the premiership. Just watching him train pre game or warming up at half time if he is a sub, his instant control and accuracy when playing 40-50 yard passes are not the usual traits of a traditional centre back, they indeed are characteristics one would bestow on a Brazilian though. What of the other traits expected of a defender? Luiz is definitely a physical presence, solid in tackles, whilst commanding in the air and he is seemingly fueled by a physical battle, he looks to bully his opponent by suffocating the room he has and leaving them on the floor. Up close and personal is where Luiz loves to find himself.

Luiz lending a helping hand after leaving Rooney on the floor

However criticisms have befallen Luiz for his over exuberance and an apparent lack of basic knowledge for defending. In his spell at Chelsea he has been guilty of committing suicide on occasions. Well, all defenders make mistakes do they not? So why does David Luiz seem to be unable to shake off the critics? It is simple, his errors although exaggerated in frequency are generally costly and make them linger in the memories of all around. Unjustly? Probably, I’ve always thought that mistakes were made to be learnt from and this is the key to David Luiz. When I asked why other promising defenders have their errors overlooked like Phil Jones, I was told that Phil Jones is still learning and that he is young. It should not be forgotten that David Luiz has had to adapt to a new league, a new footballing culture and in a role were communication is paramount, a minimal grasp of the language initially, meant that there would be ‘teething’ problems. A lack of understanding to this has led to him being a media scapegoat at times for the failings of the club.

Ask anyone who watches Luiz regularly for the entire game and they will tell you that he has grown and improved as a player, they may even surprise you and say that he’s been one of the most consistent players this season and been the best defender. Yes, he still finds himself pressing opposition players high up the pitch but it is more calculated and less often. Equally as important in recent times is his judgement in not conceding unnecessary free kicks or penalties when pressing the opposition. Of course there was the unforgettable issue at the time, that was highlighted against Napoli at the San Paolo – a desire to constantly play his way out of trouble backfired and led to the third goal. Well, since then it has been clear to see when in doubt Luiz has had no issues with clearing his line, an action he still manages to perform with a certain Samba flair.

Learning the so called basics of defending puts Luiz on par with any other centre back in the country. What sets him apart? (Other than his best attempts to look like Sideshow Bob) If Luiz’s weaknesses are traits that can be adopted quickly and learnt easily, his strengths are quite the opposite and not qualities a player develops over night but are perfected through years of practice from a young age or an innate talent. His technical ability on the ball has already been noted and exceeds that of any other defender in the league, when defending there is ironically, a nervy tension from fans at his ‘cool’ temperament, yet time and time again he proves there is no need to worry as he dispatches danger with consummate ease. Next, Luiz can boast about his creative ability, able to play killer through balls and switch play, his passing allows Chelsea to build from the back. Another string to a never ending bow is his ability to take on the opposition and dribble past players, again not what teams generally expect or even want their centre back to do, but as shown against Napoli in the second leg he can break away from the back and his surging runs filled with pace and power allow the team to regroup and in other situations he can draw defenders towards him to create space in behind for the more attacking players at the club. Furthermore the Brazilian has proved to be an accomplished finisher when it is required of him, finishes that forwards at the club would be proud of against Manchester United, Bayer Leverkusen and Bolton Wanderers are an incredible bonus. Finally, his most overlooked attribute is his ability to read the game. Often branded lucky for his ‘jumping’ or intercepting of opposition passing, his constant knack of breaking up opposition play seems to go unnoticed and is the catalyst for many Chelsea attacks.

Yet, after all these attributes highlighted is he praised for his performances? No, complaints arise that he should not play as a centre back, that he would be better suited as a full back or in midfield. This may be true, but the evidence would suggest otherwise. His forty-five minute spell against Stoke recently in which he played at right back, Luiz found himself drifting to the centre of defence as often as he could when Stoke had possession, a sign that he is naturally born to play there. As for suggestions that he could be utilised as a defensive midfielder, I ask why would you want him there? People need only look at the team who has received rave reviews for their dismantling of Manchester United in the Europa League, Marco Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao. Bielsa has transformed Javi Martinez, naturally a hugely talented central midfielder to play at centre back. Why? To do exactly what David Luiz does for Chelsea, instill a player who can build from the back and a player who can pass his way out of trouble. But this is not La Liga, this is the Premier League! Well, this is a system that the two best teams in Europe (In my opinion anyway) – Real Madrid and Barcelona both adopt. A system it only seems wise and logical to emulate and with David Luiz, Chelsea have a defender that suits the requirements more than any other. Heavily involved in all aspects of the game and able to transition from defence to attack, David Luiz is one of the most complete footballers – like a cricketing all rounder.

Potential and world class are words thrown around the footballing world all too often, yet David Luiz has the potential to be world class. Chelsea saw this when they decided to pay £25million for his services. This potential has also linked him with a move to Barcelona. His current ability has seen him play regularly for club and country, starting in place of other talented centre backs. His style of play is not too dissimilar to that of Brazilian teammate Thiago Silva who arguably is the best centre back in the world. Luiz, at 24 years of age is three years younger than Silva and if his progression continues, the world is no doubt his oyster.

Luiz and Chelsea go well together

Fans at Stamford Bridge have fallen in love with the comical character, his passion for football and the club even in the short time he has been in West London, rivaled by only that of defensive partner John Terry. The club captain had also previously stated that he felt at his most comfortable with Luiz (Comparisons can be drawn with Carvalho) at his side and even tipped him for future captaincy at Stamford Bridge. You can’t help but love him off the field, he is always a talking point on the field and even if others fail to notice it, he is a player that the Premier League and especially Chelsea should do their upmost to keep hold of. Most people aren’t in favour of change, they want to oppose those that are different but David Luiz and his football signify an evolution at the centre back role. Every genius was initially considered crazy and although his appearance may be a little crazy, his ability is definitely that of a genius.

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2 responses to “David Luiz – Evolution of the centre back

  1. Great post and I completely agree! He has his faults as does anyone but damn, the things he does well are amazing.

    I can’t wait to see Luiz develop more, he’s a fantastic addition to our team and in time, our club.

  2. Agree entirely, to my eyes he has a similar defensive attitude to Laurent Blanc, in my eyes one of the most naturally gifted footballing centre half´s I´ve ever seen. Despite Gary Nevilles hilarious appraísal of David Luiz, he does make some suicidal moves, I think in years to come he will surpass Carvalho. As you rightly say, his attacking threat is a bonus, once he tightens up at his job, he´ll be one of the best in the world

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