David Luiz turns 30 today. A meme-worthy birthday for those accounts that want to make everyone feel painfully old, Luiz’s free-spirited defending is associated with the fresh mind of youth not the grizzled veteran approach of a thirty-something. Leadership has gradually eked into his game, however, as the mistake-prone Brazilian has become something altogether more than the ‘PlayStation defender’ that he was infamously tagged.
He was slapped with a fee as he moved to PSG that not just raised eyebrows but made people go weak at the knees. Last summer, though, Luiz reversed that transfer as he returned to the blue segment of West London in another transfer that had many – including me – doubting Chelsea’s decision.
Links with Kalidou Koulibaly and Leonardo Bonucci never came to fruition and it seemed as though Antonio Conte had been forced to settle for what was left in the market. Luiz was the backup plan, a former player who had been sold at great profit previously and perhaps bought on emotion rather than pragmatism.
The reality was quite different. The Brazilian’s defensive credentials had always been under-rated in England, but even his biggest supporters must have found it tricky to see him as the solution to a Chelsea defence that was creaking with reliance on John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic. Subsequently, Luiz stepped up to the plate with aplomb once Chelsea had begun playing a back three. He was in his element and back where many a Chelsea fan felt he belonged.
Luiz proved countless people wrong and dominated. His role in the first phase of build-up for Chelsea was vital, while the sweeper role enabled his front-foot defending to be limited in risk with great reward.
Chelsea’s back three – despite being reliant on the relentless N’golo Kante in midfield – has needed Luiz. With Cesar Azpilicueta excellent and Gary Cahill much improved on last season, Luiz’s role has, at times, looked easy. That is, though, what the great Brazilian does. He makes football look easy, he is a joy to watch when on top of his game as he reads the opposition better than any other and has the technical ability to play in any position.
Luiz is often the instigator of Chelsea’s now trademark counters. A firmly hit ball through the opposition’s midfield lines quickly sets up Chelsea’s forwards to break at speed. From a defensive liability and a panic signing, the former Benfica man is now the pivotal defensive cog at the Champions Elect.
Although the defence will face questions in the remaining games as Chelsea’s clean sheet failures stretch to a worrying duration, Luiz is the lynchpin of this Chelsea side. They do not have a player capable of playing the ball-playing defender role anything like the Brazilian international has done this season and it is possibly the most important in the side.
N’golo Kante and Eden Hazard will be the headline names if Chelsea secure the title, but Luiz is as vital as anyone. His Team of the Year selection was well deserved, which is something few expected to hear when he arrived last year.