Last January Chelsea signed David Luiz from Benfica, and 12 months later they are still waiting for him to show signs of adapting to the rigours of Premier League football. Ramires, who Chelsea signed from Benfica in the preceding transfer window, has become the driving force behind Chelsea’s midfield, yet Luiz appears as naive and ill-equipped as ever.
Luiz was employed as an attacking midfielder in his youth at Sao Paulo and those instincts remain, despite operating as a centre back since moving to Vitoria in 2001. The marauding performances he provides for Chelsea are at odds with his disciplined, composed displays for Benfica and Brazil. Lining up alongside Luisao in Portugal and Thiago Silva for the Selecao, he benefits from their positioning and reading of the game, providing a dominant presence to compliment his more cavalier approach.
At Chelsea, Luiz brings out the worst in John Terry, who also performs better alongside a decisive, imposing centre back, as his rock solid partnership with Ricardo Carvalho can attest. Never the quickest, Terry is visibly slowing with age, his partnership with Luiz and the high defensive line favoured by Andre Villas-Boas is exposing his weaknesses. A comparable situation exists at Liverpool, where Jamie Carragher’s abilities appear to be deteriorating, but the presence of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel is likely to prolong Carragher’s Liverpool career.
The recent signing of Gary Cahill is a threat to Luiz’s need for regular first team football, although the change is likely to restore a sense of calm to the centre of Chelsea’s defence in the short term. Fabio Capello’s favoured centre back pairing started their fourth game together in England’s most recent fixture, a 1-0 friendly win over Sweden, providing evidence of a prosperous combination. Terry favours the left side of central defence with Cahill more comfortable on the right, whereas the presence of the left-footed Luiz appears to complicate matters at Stamford Bridge. Cahill can also call upon a wealth of Premier League experience.
Luiz has more in common with Newcastle United’s Fabricio Coloccini than unruly hair, the Argentinian also struggled to adapt to the speed, physicality and rigid defensive structure of Premier League football. His attacking instincts were curbed while he developed the necessary defensive mindset to thrive in England and his clumsy, rash performances have been more or less eradicated. His successful integration should provide hope for Luiz, he has even been rewarded with a licence to roam by Alan Pardew in recent weeks.
Luiz lined up alongside Terry in the 1-0 FA Cup victory at QPR at the weekend, providing a reigned in, stress free performance, while Cahill remained on the bench. More of the same is required if he is to maintain the status quo.
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