Having arrived in the same January window that Fernando Torres was bought, his signing was overshadowed, yet he has unquestionably outshone and outperformed the Spaniard in almost every way. It was around this time a year ago, I wrote a piece on David Luiz potentially becoming the epitome of a modern day centre back. Twelve months since, he has done nothing to change that thought and developed a more well rounded game and even added traits of a typical English centre back during a time frame in which I strongly believe he has been the best centre back at the club by some distance.
Luiz is naturally a remarkable footballer. There has never been any doubt over this part of his game, putting his ability on the ball on hold for now, his physical attributes alone, to breakdown players into their football manager ratings, are usually overlooked. He is deceptively quick and this gives him the advantage of being able to recover from not only his own mistakes but those of his partner at centre back should they occur. He doesn’t sacrifice strength for his speed either, he has the potential to dominate opposing forwards, especially when the ball is on the ground, he often uses his body to shield the ball from the opposition and makes it a difficult task to get round him. Combine the two and Luiz is often seen closing down attackers, putting in tough challenges to the delight of the Chelsea fans, leaving his victim usually dispossessed and in a heap on the ground. In that regard, Luiz is old fashioned, he doesn’t shy away from tackles and loves the physicality that is expected of him. Possibly his greatest strength defensively is his anticipation of opponent’s passes, he seems to be able to jump in front of strikers and intercept the ball, regularly breaking up play and nullifying danger before it even has a chance to appear. There may be strikers that relish this part of his game as they feel he can be easily turned but in reality there are very few that ever get the better of him.
One of the first features of Luiz’s game that almost everyone noticed immediately is his comfort on the ball and at times casual demeanour which delights and scares all those in attendance at the same time. There are very few players in the world so assured of their own ability and even fewer with the skill to produce the ‘goods’. There was however a time when this would get Luiz in all sorts of troublesome predicaments, Gary Neville compared him to a “10-year-old on a PlayStation” but now he’s reigned in his carefree nature to an extent and has adopted a more tentative, safety first, approach. This by no means suggests there is a lack of showboating from the defender, who in arguably his worst performance this season against Manchester City, produced a piece of skill as the last defender that any player in the world would have been proud of, as he flicked the ball with the outside of his foot over the head of the on-rushing player and nonchalantly carried on with his business as if nothing about it was out of the ordinary. There are those that still want these incidents to be removed from his game but in doing so you would take away from the brilliance of the player.
His calmness on the ball and attacking attitude led to plenty of calls for him to play further up the field in a central midfield role, these wishes were granted when Benitez took over the squad and he impressed during a period of midfield shortage for the club. His passing range and tenacity seemed to fit perfectly in a more advanced role, yet the lack of depth at centre back and the long term injury to John Terry meant that Luiz would be forced to return to the defence to ensure stability at the back. However, it seems that he grew as a player following his spell in midfield, understanding the importance of timing his forward runs, he now surges forward in situations to maximise their impact and looks to pick passes that most defenders wouldn’t attempt, perfectly illustrated by his long through ball to Fernando Torres to open the scoring in the recent fixture against Rubin Kazan.
Munich was arguably the greatest night in Chelsea’s history and Luiz’s contribution to that European run should not be forgotten. Beginning with the 2nd leg against Napoli, alongside Ivanovic the pair put in a monumental effort in spite of picking up injuries in order to see Chelsea through to the quarter finals against his former club Benfica in which Luiz was my choice for Man of the Match as he continually thwarted Benfica’s attacks and saved a certain goal when he blocked Oscar Cardozo’s shot on the line. He has since been one for the big occasion and appears to have been the number one centre back for both Di Matteo and Benitez. The stats don’t lie when they talk about Luiz, Chelsea have managed one clean sheet when he hasn’t featured in the side and that came in the League Cup against Championship side Wolves.
There have been various comparisons drawn with Luiz and former Chelsea centre backs, Frank Lebouef and Ricardo Carvalho. He may not be as cunning as the Portuguese was in around the penalty box and perhaps he is not as opposed to profanity as the Frenchman was, Luiz resembles their knack of being able to play with ball and dribble the ball from defence becoming the starting point for attacks when other avenues are being negated. Like the pair, Luiz occasionally finds himself on the scoresheet, he has 9 goals in 96 appearances and that represents a fairly handy return for a centre back. This is invariably helped by his ability with dead balls. Luiz has worked hard on his free kick taking and reaped the rewards. Fans will hope that his legacy is even far greater than that of Lebouef and Carvalho with the Blues.
Above all, there seems to be a growing maturity around him now. With the influx of young foreign talent, Luiz seems to have taken it upon himself to help them out and become settled at the club, in particularly with fellow countrymen Ramires, Oscar and Lucas Piazon (currently on loan at Malaga). There have been less instances of his comedic traits in the media and more concerted efforts of changing that image and demanding focus from the squad. He can even be found praying over Fernando Torres in the hope that divine intervention can return Torres’ abilities to him. He seems to be primed for the captaincy, the heir apparent if you will, either when John Terry or the board decide it is time for the current skipper to step down and hang up his boots at least in Chelsea colours. He would be no stranger to captaining a side either, having made no effort in hiding the pride he has felt in captaining his national side Brazil when The Seleção has called on Luiz to lead them, and as vice captain to Thiago Silva, Luiz arguably learns his trade alongside the best centre back in the world. He’s become a leader on and off the pitch and whilst his actions off the field and personality shouldn’t be considered as important, Luiz is involved in his fair share of charity work and public adoration for a club who have had their fair share of bad publicity over the years.
Whilst there remains plenty of room for improvement for Chelsea’s eccentric centre back, he has made plenty of progress since his arrival to the club. At 25, Luiz’s prime remains ahead of him as he grows his understanding of the role and what is expected of him. There have been apparent suitors for him, primarily Barcelona but it would seem a farfetched idea for Chelsea to sell a player whose presence at the club seems to be vital now and inevitably even more so, as Chelsea transition from the ‘old guard’ to the new generation of the Abramovich Era. A player that tries to connect with the fans he is a growing favourite in SW6 and will be one of the key players in Chelsea’s battle to finish fourth this season.