Six Points: Why David Luiz should (or shouldn’t) become a defensive midfielder

Chelsea’s Brazilian defender David Luiz has been subject to praise and criticism since joining the Blues in January last year from Portuguese outfit SL Benfica. Purchased in the region of £21million, he is nearing the end of his first full year at the club, having nearly reached 50 appearances for the club in total. But since then the highly-rated centre half who has been noted for his attacking drive from the back, ability to pass and unorthodox shooting capacity, has drawn questions upon his playing position, as to whether or not he really is a centre back and, if not, where should he play?

Some have argued that his lack of discipline as a defender leaves Chelsea vulnerable at the back, lacking concentration in not positioning himself well enough, as well as being risky with his tackling. Others however have stated that it is just within his repertoire to get forward – some defenders have been known to have the same trait, even fellow team mate Gary Cahill before joining the club had a distinct reputation for getting forward for corners, counter-attacks and in open play. This “Six Points” article aims to look at the positives and negatives as to whether or not David Luiz should (or shouldn’t) be a holding midfielder.

 

Positives:

  • Technical ability:

For a defender, Luiz excels in a category that most would be largely neglectful since their main priority is to have the concentration and awareness around them to make tackles interceptions, blocks and maintain a consistent string of performances. Meanwhile this, few have the capability to combine the two.

Statistics so far this season have shown that the former São Paulo and Vitória youth product has played the most accurate through long passes this season in the entire Chelsea squad, as well as the most accurate through passer behind Juan Mata. In fact, he is first and third in these two categories in the league. An impressive feat that displays his talent on the ball and what he can do. Accurate passing in a centre half is something that is highly appreciated, but hard to find and develop without neglecting other areas of the player’s game.

  • Improvement since arrival and still learning:

He has come quite a long way since joining. His improvement has been visible both on and off of the pitch through the departures of Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas from the Stamford Bridge hot seat. Now under the temporary stewardship of stand-in manager Roberto Di Matteo, there is a sense of relaxation in his role. Whilst there were evident troubles surrounding the Chelsea locker room whilst AVB was at the helm and Luiz coming out to back his employer, Di Matteo’s fairly laid back regime does not exert pressure on him. He seems more confident in his own competences in defence, whilst trying to gather what is left of the season in what can only really be described as a “disappointment” for the Blues.

Upon over a year ago Luiz made his debut as a Chelsea player he made his debut against Liverpool in the Premier League, substituting Jose Bosingwa in the process. Glimpses of his performances came to light in front of the capacity crowd as he charged down the Liverpool opposition, made some good interceptions and attempted through passes that, though did not come off as intended, were still promising enough to warrant that there is still room and time to improve. Prior to his move, he was widely regarded as a bright prospect in Portugal, starring in Jorge Jesus’ Benfica squad that would go on to capture their second Taça da Liga in two years. Alongside fellow countryman Luisão, Benfica finished second in the league to Villas-Boas’ FC Porto that went the entire season unbeaten to claim the league title and the UEFA Europa League trophy in the same season, leading him, subsequently, to a job in southwest London. At 24 years old, could become one of the Premier League’s best defenders in a few leagues, given the right amount of time – perhaps even a great defensive midfielder too.

  • Defensive awareness

Moreover the fact that David Luiz can pass and play a good ball in and despite the criticisms, he has shown great defensive awareness throughout the season. His ability to intercept the ball and clear his lines have been well known to Chelsea fans alike, as well as neutrals who have enjoyed watching him and his attacking tendencies break through.

According to WhoScored.com, Luiz averages the most interceptions per game than anyone else in the Chelsea team, and the most for any centre back in the league (fourth overall to Stephen Warnock, Lee Cattermole and Stilyan Petrov) and the fifth most offsides won per game in the league out of every centre half who plays for a side inside the top six. Half of whom play in the same side as him, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic.

Though statistics can only go so far in determining a player’s ability, they give an insight as to what a player is capable of, what they can do and what they contribute to their team. Of course, the statistics provided and the research show that David Luiz is not incompetent of defensive responsibilities, and he is still good enough in retaining the skills needed to become a solid defender.

 

Negatives

  • Foul commitment

Whilst the positives have been acknowledged, negatives do include clumsiness at times, and lack of concentration for the full ninety minutes when it becomes crucial that those three points are secured, or when the win will see Chelsea through to the next round. Positioning, as mentioned before, it one place that could be strengthen with moderately tense training work done behind the scenes, which would help his game considerably.

Some research has shown correlation between the amount of times a player is dribbled past and the amount of times that they commit. Of the average 0.6 times average that Luiz is dribbled past in a match that number doubles when he is assessed in foul count. Overall this season Luiz has been dribbled past eleven times whilst committing 20 fouls in total. However, this is not suggest that every foul that he has made is directly from being dribbled past, regardless of how quick, slow, strong, weak or skilful the player is, but that there is a connection between the two – despite this, it is not a strong correlation and is therefore subjective to criticism.

Whilst Chelsea have the worst disciplinary record in the league (59 yellow cards, 4 reds), 27 of them have come from the defensive line – Ashley Cole, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Jose Bosingwa and David Luiz, totalling up to 42.85%. Now, this is a norm and is nothing really to be of concern since the defence is normally suppose to pick up the most bookings out of any area throughout, but 18.5% of them come from David Luiz, tying in with Ivanovic. This further decreases to a meagre 7% when calculating Chelsea’s bookings in total.

Again, the research and the correlations made are subjective and cannot necessarily be used against David Luiz. Though this, he commits the most fouls for a central defender in his own team and the fifth most in the league, behind the likes of Anatolin Alcaraz, Christophe Berra, Richard Dunne and Ryan Shawcross. It is something worth considering reducing so that he can improve his game whilst keeping a steady rate.

  • Enough central midfielders, few backups if converted

Alex’s move to Paris Saint-Germain in France during the January transfer window meant that there would be one less central defender available for selection in the run-in for the battle against the possibility of not making the top four for the first time since 2002 and the days of another Italian in Claudio Ranieri.

The signing of Oriol Romeu from Barcelona’s youth ranks rankled with a few people in the Blaugrana camp, but however, the capture has proven to be a good signing indeed. With the likes of Fernando Torres and Juan Mata to assist the youngster in making the best of his stay at the club, they have all shown their worth to Abramovich and all of whom that are involved with the club. Romeu adds to the list of seven other midfielders who are either central midfielders or who can play in that position. Michael Essien’s return to the fold following his lengthy time out in suffering a knee injury during the pre-season meant that he would not be available for the beginning of the campaign, but providing opportunities for others.

It is fair to say that at this point in time, converting David Luiz into a midfielder is not a wise choice. In the knowledge that the likes of Essien, Ramires, Meireles, Mikel, Lampard and Romeu available, adding a defender-turned-midfielder would just complicate the situation. In addition to that, you also have the fact that there will only be three defenders available to play at centre half: John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill. That means that Jose Bosingwa will play right back and not Ivanovic. All you have to do really is ask any Chelsea fan for them to explain why that is not a good decision.

On the contrary to this point, many critics in the media have suggested that a summer clearout is needed if the club are going to make improvements and reclaim the strong fighting sprit they had within their ranks during the days of Mourinho, and the back-to-back Premier League titles that made them the strongest team in England at the time.

Meireles has hardly been a sensation since switching from Merseyside to London in his move from Portugal and joining former club mate Bosingwa in the Blues’ ranks, whilst some have hinted that time may be up for Frank Lampard in a couple years at his age of 33. Malouda and Essien both also are being nudged to the exit door. If Chelsea venture into the transfer market and purchase another centre half whilst making refurbishments to their midfield, then perhaps the conversion would be more suitable, but at the moment it seems like it would do very much more harm than good.

  • Previous experiences have not told well

One of the main concerns surrounding David Luiz as a youth player was his original position as a defensive midfielder. Originally he was fielded to play a holding midfield role but having not impressed the coaches, he was deemed unsuitable, and almost leaving the club as a result. Despite this, perseverance prevailed with him and he was converted into a central defender where performances improved and was able to establish himself back as a bright prospect.

Indeed this was at a young age, at fifteen to sixteen years old even, but having not been in that role for such a long time, only to be thrusted or tried into the same again could possibly hinder his development. This is unless he has been practising the role in training and is slowly becoming accustomed to it after such a long time, but the repercussions again prove to be much riskier than playing it safe.

I am sure that those who believed he could play in midfield only wanted to see him drive up and down the centre of the park with the ball, playing through passes and imagining him scoring a belter from outside of the box, but you forget that he seems far more comfortable with it when he has a strong base position. Playing in front of the defensive line is a tough job enough and highly underrated at times, but since he is very much used to playing alongside another defender in a four man line whilst another six play in front, it can become overwhelming.

A conclusion

So to conclude this “Six Points” article, statistics go for and against the big Brazilian. He has shown that he can both attack and defend with his passing, ball interceptions, tackling and ability to dispossess the opposition (not forgetting that he averages the most dribbles for a centre back than anyone in the squad and the league, and the fourth most in Europe), but also areas to work on as many footballers do. The possibilities of it do not stop people from dreaming of him fulfilling a temporary role of the sort, but at this moment, it would just be a mistake in my personal opinion.

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