For much of his first spell at Chelsea, David Luiz was largely portrayed as a clown by journalists and pundits alike due to his erratic playing style and Sideshow Bob-esque hair.
He plays as if he’s being “controlled by a 10-year-old in the crowd on a PlayStation” Gary Neville once famously said when talking about the Brazilian defender. However, five years on from Neville’s iconic piece of commentary, Luiz is presently the person symbolically holding the PlayStation pad in his hand with the rest of Chelsea’s defence now being the ones controlled.
Since his return to Stamford Bridge last summer, after re-signing from Paris Saint-Germain on deadline day, Luiz has been magnificent and is starting to win plaudits and critics over – despite all of the scrutiny that initially arose with his transfer.
“He’s probably coming back a worse player than when he left [Chelsea]”
Journalist Julien Laurens
"David Luiz is a worse player now than when he left"
— BBC 5 live Sport (@5liveSport) September 1, 2016
Luiz, though, has shown anything but regression during his second stint as a Chelsea player.
Under Antonio Conte, the 30-year-old played a starring role in the Blues’ latest Premier League triumph, thriving in the middle of his manager’s back three. And, while Conte’s decision to switch from a four-man defence to a three-man defence was pivotal to both Chelsea’s title success and Luiz cementing his position in the side, it’s not the sole factor behind the centre-back’s impressive form.
Indeed, having the likes of N’Golo Kante, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill winning the ball before it gets to the slightly deeper zone of defence he’s responsible for does help. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Brazil international is still required to smash the ball into row Z – something he’s doing more than he did in his first go at Premier League football – or win aerial duels.
The reality is Luiz has developed into an overall better defender; the notion that he’s simply being protected by Chelsea’s 3-4-3 system is both wrong and an insult to Conte’s coaching. Luiz’s decision-making, tackling and tactical discipline, for example, have all improved under Conte, who set out the goal of crafting the former PSG man into a defender as solid as his former Juventus proteges: Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli.
David Luiz won 5 tackles in the second half today; more than Wanyama, Dembele, Sissoko, Alli and Dier combined (4). 💪 pic.twitter.com/cMLyGvqrqI
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 20, 2017
“I think David’s qualities are in the middle, between Bonucci and Barzagli. Good technique, good personality like Leonardo Bonucci and he likes to play football. He’s an important player for this. Also, I find a good potential, physically, like Barzagli’s,”
Conte speaking to reporters last September
Luiz, in the absence of John Terry and the rest of Chelsea’s old guard who were renowned for their leadership qualities as well as their footballing ability, has also become a commander-like figure within the squad. While Cahill and Azpilicueta are officially the club’s captain and vice-captain, the ex-Benfica player is often the one barking orders on the pitch, organising his defence and the rest of the team.
So, with all that in mind, perhaps it’s time to consider Luiz as one of the Premier League’s best defenders alongside the likes of team-mate Azpilicueta, Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld and Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk.