Nobody could quite believe it when Chelsea were linked with a move to bring David Luiz back to Stamford Bridge.
It seemed nonsensical. The Brazilian was a liability the first time around, and he did little at Paris Saint-Germain to suggest he had improved.
Yet Antonio Conte forked out £30m to re-sign Luiz, and he’ll be glad that he did.
Article continues below
There’s no two ways about it; the 29-year-old has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season. Chelsea haven’t conceded a goal in six league matches - Mesut Ozil, on September 24, was the last man to score past Thibaut Courtois - and Luiz has played a big part in the Blues’ defensive success.
How was a player who Gary Neville once described as playing like he was controlled by “a 10-year-old on a PlayStation” turned it around? GiveMeSport has a look at six reasons how Chelsea are getting the best out of their crazy-haired Brazilian.
Article continues below
Conte’s 3-4-3 system
It was after that 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in September that Conte decided to employ a 3-4-3 formation that worked so successfully for him in Italy.
Luiz is flourishing in the middle of that back three (typically supported by Cesar Azpilicueta on the right and Gary Cahill to his left) which may appear to offer less protection to Courtois, but is actually helping the defence.
The presence of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses in the wing-back positions mean Chelsea often have five defenders, forcing the three centre-backs to close the space.
This, of course, benefits Luiz as there is less room for opposing strikers to roam.
N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in front of him
Chelsea’s centre-midfield duo after two defensive-minded players, which helps Luiz enormously.
He doesn’t have to worry about Kante or Matic wandering forward - instead, he knows that they will occupy the space just in front of him.
Kante and Matic do so much of the dirty work - tackling, intercepting passes and marking opposing players - that Luiz doesn’t have to worry about being pulled out of position or losing his man.
Chelsea fans love him
Though fans of Chelsea’s rivals mocked Luiz’s signing, Chelsea fans were buzzing. He wasn’t necessarily terrible in his first spell, it was simply a case of the Blues not being able to risk having such an error-prone player hurting their chances of winning the title
His jovial behaviour made him a fan favourite, and they love him even more now that he’s playing really well.
It’s clear that the former PSG man is enjoying himself.
"The spirit is amazing and when you have this team spirit, this makes the difference,” he said after the 1-0 win against Middlesbrough on Sunday, via the Mirror.
“I am happy to play for this team and I am happy to be part of this family."
Conte gives him freedom
The Chelsea boss probably heard the reports about Luiz before he signed him. That was he was liable to a mistake or two, and could cost the Blues points.
But instead of restricting how he plays, the 47-year-old has given the defender freedom to play loosely at times.
Take this surging run against Middlesbrough yesterday. A more cautious manager might have told him to pass the ball off as soon as he won it in midfield. Not Conte.
But he still does his job
The Brazilian was asked to man-mark Alvaro Negredo for 90 minutes on Sunday, and he proceeded to mark the Spaniard out of the game.
He wasn’t afraid to get rough with the physical striker and, with no attacking outlet, Middlesbrough didn’t pose a great threat to Courtois.
He’s giving 100 per cent
Would any Chelsea player have done this under Jose Mourinho last season? Definitely not.