Genius is always misunderstood. We fear it. In a constant attempt to try to make sense of the world around us and we build up an understanding of how things should work. When we encounter something that forces us challenge this conception, our first instinct is to reject it. Why should we change? Change is difficult.
David Luiz has been the victim of such misunderstandings during his time at Chelsea. “What is he?” has been the question most asked about the man. “Is he a midfielder or defender?” We want to know. We need to know. Not conforming to our conventional ideas of either, Luiz been disregarded by many. Too flippant to be trusted. Just too unpredictable.
But it’s this very unpredictability that makes Luiz such a valuable asset to the most elite of clubs. Football has changed. It was money changed it. A gulf now exists in the Premier League between the few clubs at the very top and those below them. These two groups are essentially playing different games; one to win, and one to survive.
Chelsea, luckily for them, fall into this first category. However, their punishment for such riches is that more than half the teams they play do not really try to play. They play to defend. Plan A is first not to concede.
Against such teams, the advantages of having a player at the back who is as technically good as Luiz is, are massive.
The formation that Chelsea most often face when playing these smaller teams is one with five midfielders and one forward. However, this lone striker will often drop back into his own half when his side don’t have possession, making an effective 11 man defensive unit. The opposition rarely put much pressure on Chelsea’s back four, with sides tending to be content for the Blues to have in their own half and pass it laterally.
This begs the question, is there a need for four defenders in such situations? There certainly isn’t a lot of defending to be done.
In response to the increased preference for deep defending, Europe’s elite clubs have moved a midfielder back into one of the positions usually occupied by a centre-back. This is why Javier Mascherano finds himself now operating in defence for Barcelona, and Javier Martinez similarly at Bayern Munich. Sergio Ramos may have made the more conventional move from right-back to centre-back, but again for the same reasons.
Chelsea are yet to embrace this movement. Which is odd considering how often they’ve struggled to break teams down this season. What makes this even stranger is that the system that Chelsea employ makes the need for such a player even greater.
Jose Mourinho has implemented a counter-attacking style since returning to Stamford Bridge. And Chelsea have turned out to be very good at it. Hazard and co. have looked incredibly frightening when allowed to run at the opposition defence and it’s for this reason that many believe Chelsea have a decent chance of winning this years Champions League.
However, the fact remains that it is very difficult to counter-attack a team that don’t attack you. And most teams don’t attack Chelsea. Breaking these sides down has been the clubs greatest problem and many narrow wins this campaign have masked the immense struggle that took place in order to achieve them.
And yet they need not struggle so. Chelsea already have a player in their midst with creative capabilities necessary to ease this process, but so far choose not to use him. Luiz has the willingness and ability to pass the ball forward. Having such a player at the base of your team is becoming to feel invaluable for Europe’s elite sides.
But it would appear that Chelsea put little value on David Luiz, with all reports suggesting he will be allowed to leave the club for Barcelona in the summer. It’s hard not to feel like this is a mistake given the trajectory that modern football is on.
David Luiz is unpredictable. And the unpredictable cannot be controlled. This would appear to be too much for the cool mix of narcissism and authoritarianism that embodies Mourinho. However, the pragmatic inside should realize that sometimes you need to dance with the devil in order to win.