An instant cult hero, David Luiz has gone from strength to strength since joining the Blues from Benfica in January 2011. A scorer of spectacular goals, an exemplar of swashbuckling displays, and, despite being a magnet for punditry criticism, a genuine world class footballer. The question is whereabouts on the pitch, midfield or in defence?
David Luiz Moreira Marinho is a larger than life character who wears his heart on his sleeve and, in a relatively short space of time, has managed to build a real affinity with Chelsea fans. His passion and enthusiasm have endeared him to the faithful and his technical ability and athleticism have found favour with coaches and plaudits alike. His infectious do-or-die attitude has seen him firmly established in the Brazilian national side as vice-captain and he has been earmarked as a future captain of the blues. However doubts remain that he has the concentration or work ethic to truly establish himself in Chelsea’s central defence. Others see his ability on the ball, his eye for a pass and pace as being wasted in the backline and far more suited to a defensive midfield role.
Chelsea legend and top pundit Pat Nevin has long advocated Luiz’s best position as a defensive midfielder. In midfield his rampaging runs forward are well covered by the back line and fellow midfielders. Eager to step out with the ball such risks at the back are widely considered too dangerous and far more likely to result in conceding a goal or a foul in a dangerous position. In midfield Luiz’s runs and passes can open up the game more, having a more direct impact in the final third and causing damage to the opposition rather than just trying to stop them. Rafa Benitez saw the potential of Luiz in this role and, due in part to circumstance of injury, Luiz was awarded a start in a more advanced role. He didn’t disappoint. During the second half of last season Luiz was rotated between defence and midfield and excelled in each position, so much so that stalwarts Mikel and Terry often appeared second choice. Luiz proved to be so adapt in the defensive midfield position that many see this as his natural position and his future role in the eleven. It was of course in midfield where Luiz started in the Europa league final.
There remains a school of thought that David Luiz is more effective in midfield than defence because, at the back, he is a liability. He is too rash with tackles, too risky with possession and does not have the concentration for a mistake-free ninety minutes. The English game is unlike many others, it is built on foundations that put effort, pace and physicality on a par with skill and technique. As a young defender schooled on a slower tempo of football Luiz needed time to adjust, time to make errors and learn from them. I think his performances at the back in many key games, such as the Champions League final and Manchester United away, have shown his maturity in marshalling the defence. In the Confederations Cup this summer Luiz was outstanding at centre half, with little protection from the full backs, Brazil were tactically wide open yet time and again Luiz intervened superbly. His ability to stride forward to start attacks is encouraged in the national team. As a ball playing centre back there are few more talented in the game. In Jose Mourinho I think we have the perfect coach who can further discipline the defensive part of Luiz’s game and encourage the expansive part. At Stamford Bridge teams will be looking not to concede and Luiz might just offer the perfect attacking option from deep, whether it be a cross field pass or a rampaging run. Mourinho might just be the manager to get the most of David Luiz, the defender.