The Brazil defender has been the subject of ridicule from English football pundits in the past, but he has gone on to prove them wrong since his £32 million return to Stamford B…
Contrary to expectations, David Luiz has been an instant smash hit at Chelsea, flourishing in their new 3-4-3 formation and helping the Blues to four straight shut outs.
The £32 million summer signing from Paris Saint-Germain has a reputation for thoughtless errors, yet these have not been evident since his integration into Antonio Conte’s squad.
The 29-year-old plays in the middle of the Italian’s 3-4-3 system. It is a position that gives him the opportunity to show off his impressive range of passing, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill flanking him in roles that require more ground to be covered.
Conte has asked Luiz to be the rock at the heart of his Chelsea defence, and there has been no sign of a difficult transition. Luiz, ever a positive influence in the dressing room, now carries a more serious demeanour than before.
A 3-0 loss at Arsenal sent a thunderbolt through the side, but they have regrouped and the defensive strategy has been rethought.
Luiz has had bad days in his second spell at Chelsea, but they were down to collective faults, and now he has a strong claim to be a permanent fixture in the starting XI.
John Terry has stepped down to a lesser role upon renewing his contract last season and the Brazilian’s leadership skills have helped to replace those of the former England man.
The Blues captain will always be Mr. Chelsea, but he may require an injury to Luiz if he is to come back into the side. Terry didn’t look as comfortable as any of the regulars as he played in Conte’s three-at-the-back formation for the first time in the EFL Cup loss to West Ham last week.
Luiz’s central role is the one that Terry could probably best adapt to overtime, but with Kurt Zouma closing in on a return it is likely that he is gradually phased out.
Conte’s tactical decisions of late are reminiscent of his successful time at Juventus. During that time, the coach could call upon Leonardo Bonucci, he played the ‘Luiz Role’ as he led and controlled his defence while also utilising his brilliant passing range.
“I think [Luiz’s] qualities are a little similar to both Bonucci and Barzagli,” the coach told reporters on 9 September. “He has good technique and personality like Leonardo Bonucci, Bonucci likes to play football. Also, I find him competitive like Andrea Barzagli.”
Sceptics of the Brazilian were rubbing their hands back in September when Conte made these comparisons, but the boss’ comments have proven accurate.
Gary Neville, who once said Luiz looked like he was being controlled by “a 10-year-old on a PlayStation” was shocked to see Conte and Luiz brought together. Though the centre-back may not have been his manager’s first choice, Neville underestimated Conte’s flexibility to work with a variety of different players.
“I’m very surprised to see him with Conte as a manager,” he told Sky Sports. “I think of Conte centre-backs, the last few years in Italy with Juventus, very solid, know how to play in a zonal system, dependable, and I think David Luiz is obviously a big talent.
“But I would have never of put those two together. There’s something bizarre about it. It’s a bit strange. I’m trying to think of an analogy to describe it. It’s a bit like me with a Miss World.”
Conte’s association with Luiz is neither bizarre nor strange, and his return has captured the imagination of Chelsea fans. He was fondly remembered at Stamford Bridge for being part of the Champions League winning squad, while his personality is infectious.
Arguments against the player often come across as a little old fashioned and simplistic, as the English mentality too often romanticises old school tough defenders who rough up strikers – not those who read the game well and can play a 30 yard pass.
While the former Benfica man should not take the sole praise for Chelsea’s recent good defensive run, there is no doubt that he was under more pressure than anyone to prove himself since his return to west London.
But so far the high-profile errors have been cast aside and under Conte he is ready to prove that he is a world-class talent.