David Luiz arrived at Chelsea in January 2011, and during his 15 months at the club has become something of a cult hero with the fans.
The swashbuckling ‘Sideshow Bob’ look-a-like isn’t afraid to venture forward, with a cavalier style that’s led to a number of important goals for the club.
However, a disregard for basic defensive principles were seen as the 24-year-old’s Achilles heel, with the €25 million addition painted as the Blues’ fall guy after Carlo Ancelotti splashed the cash on the former Benfica star.
Andre Villas-Boas kept faith in the player after his arrival from FC Porto in the summer transfer window, but errors again punctuated Luiz’s play during the era of ‘AVB’ at Stamford Bridge.
However, the 34-year-old’s exit at the start of March has coincided with an up-turn in defensive fortunes.
And, whilst Roberto Di Matteo can’t take all the credit for the player’s recent improvements, it isn’t pure coincidence that Luiz has made big improvements under the Italian.
"I’m very happy in London, I like London and Chelsea. I like England and playing in the Premier League," he’s quoted as saying in The Evening Standard.
"I play for a big club and when you play for a big club the pressure is so hard. But when you win you are the best and a hero, that is normal."
Amidst a surprise link to Barcelona, Luiz’s commitment to the cause in west London is another major positive in what is turning out to be an impressive end-of-season run.
The Blues have lost just once in 11 matches in all competitions since Di Matteo took the helm, with Luiz featuring in ten of those matches. He wasn’t involved against Fulham on Monday night.
In those matches, Luiz has been used at both right back and centre back. It’s a versatility that was occasionally utilised during his time in the Primera Liga, but one we’d rarely seen successfully in England.
Several pundits have suggested that the Brazilian international’s style is not currently suited to life as a centre back, with continuous forward advances leaving a one-man light defence exposed to quick counter-attacking play.
As a full-back, Luiz has more licence to move forward, adding an extra attacking dimension down one flank whilst also adding an aerial threat from crosses on the other side.
Di Matteo has also recognised that, when Luiz plays at centre back, it’s important to have a holding midfielder capable of filling the gap. That’s where Michael Essien or Jon Obi-Mikel come into the picture, whilst Oriol Romeu could do a similar job.
And, with Branislav Ivanovic expected to receive a lengthy ban for his ‘punch’ on Shaun Maloney, Luiz can expect to again be involved in several of the big games left this season – most notably two Champions League semi-final matches against Barcelona.
There is also the small matter of Chelsea’s battle to finish in the top four in the Premier League, with clashes against Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal set to define the club’s season domestically.
Luiz has now shown that he’s a player Di Matteo can trust as the season comes to a close, and that’s exactly what the former midfielder needs during this challenging time in the capital.
Once a joke, Luiz could now be the key to the club’s success or failure in the final weeks of the season.
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