Unmasking Chelsea’s secret attacking weapon, David Luiz
Background photo: Vespa, CC-BY-SA 3.0
Don’t be too shocked if David Luiz makes it into the PFA Team of the Year for 2019. The Brazilian has polished a particular aspect of his game to give Chelsea an unusual advantage.
If there was a lifetime award for mercurial players, Luiz would be a finalist. His form rises and dips from year to year. However, the one-time FIFPro World11 defender is arguably still among the best in the business, but Luiz’s defensive prowess or shortcomings aren’t the focal point here. His attacking contribution is what deserves special consideration.
Luiz has been a mainstay in Maurizio Sarri’s first team since the ex-banker assumed duties as Chelsea’s tactician. Much has been made of Chelsea's poor finishing but the 31-year-old isn't to blame. Per Premier League stats, the defender is the fourth best passer in the top-tier with 1,749 passes. The former Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica star creates more chances (eight) than any central defender in the Division. From long-range, Luiz has been pinpoint for the Blues on 125 occasions.
Luiz’s style under Sarri has been eagle-eyed front-foot football. The effect might not be too glaring for casual viewers but watch closely and you'll be awestruck.
Teams who come up against Chelsea tend to focus on Jorginho and Eden Hazard. They are the ones expected to play the killer pass. When those two are cut off by markers, Luiz goes all Thanos on opponents. He plays the pass himself.
Opponents still haven’t fully grasped the damage Luiz can do with his skill at playing diagonal balls from the back. He created four good chances before pulling off a stellar assist for N’Golo Kante against Crystal Palace. The most audacious pass many Premier League fans witnessed this season came from Luiz’s right boot in a game against Newcastle. In the ninth minute, Luiz spotted Pedro’s run and picked him out with a diagonal pass from 50-yards while looking in a different direction. The Spaniard latched onto it and had the simple task of lobbing the keeper. One-nil.
Pedro could’ve had a brace before the break in that game. Or even a hat-trick, if he’d been more clinical with Luiz's passes. The same scenario repeated itself against Arsenal a week ago Saturday with the chances wasted.
From his position in central defence, it can be argued the 31-year-old sees the pitch better. A panoramic view is all well and good yet, it takes nous, guile and perfection to pull off such mind-boggling passes.
Chelsea has an attacking edge. It’s difficult to defend against a player who can lock on a target from 50 yards or more. It's how David Beckham first made his name. Luiz can effortlessly unlock defences and create good chances for his team. The question is, can they take those chances?
The best passer in the world?
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand suggested Luiz is now the game's best long-range passer. Ferdinand’s sentiment was echoed on social media by many fans. It's safe to say anyone who disagrees is shortsighted.