David Luiz is a footballer who divides opinion. Within the same 90 minutes he can go from looking like a world class defender to a someone who could get laughed off the pitch in the local Sunday league.
Of course, the reality is not that stark but given the reputation that follows Luiz (one of ‘he always looks like he has a mistake in him’), it is far easier to remember the calamities rather than the performances of brilliance.
Realistically, come the end of this current Premier League season which one are you more likely to remember: David Luiz marshalling Chelsea’s backline and heading home the second against City or his desperate attempt to sprint out of Wembley when Son went on to score for Tottenham? Exactly.
Luiz’ contract is up in the summer and as of 1 January, he is able to talk to clubs outside of the Premier League. With Chelsea’s policy of only offering one year extensions to players over the age of 30 still very much in place, there is every chance that Luiz could be leaving Stamford Bridge: something that felt highly likely last season, but given the fact he has played his way into Sarri’s starting XI something that feels a bit more surprising this term.
In this piece, we are going to have a look at David Luiz’s numbers this season compared to Chelsea’s title-winning season of two years ago and see whether there is enough improvement to warrant the club breaking their policy and giving Luiz the two-year deal he desires.
As you can see, Luiz has been used as the left-sided central defender in Sarri’s system so far this season.
This heat map, below, is taken from the 2016/17 season where Luiz played in the middle of Conte’s back three.
As you can see, starting from the central position saw Luiz cover more areas of the pitch; possibly something worth bearing in mind when viewing the data below.
If the question is whether David Luiz is performing better this season than in the season where Chelsea won the title it is worth looking at a couple of these numbers in more detail.
Interceptions: 4.79 per 90 in 2016/17 vs 4.57 this season
Aerial Duels won: 3.56 per 90 in 2016/17 vs 4.27 this season
Duels won: 12.35 per 90 in 2016/17 vs 14.02 this season
Pass % completion: 86.1% in 2016/17 vs 90.6% this season
Total successful actions: 62.76 per 90 in 2016/17 vs 92.41 this season (72% vs 78%)
In all areas other than interceptions, where there is a very small drop per 90, David Luiz is performing better this season defensively than he did in the season that Chelsea won the Premier League title.
That knowledge brings us back round to the original point; should Chelsea be considering breaking their over-30 policy and offer David Luiz a two-year extension to his contract?
The fact that he is performing better, statistically, than he has ever performed for Chelsea has to mean that the Chelsea powers that be need to at least consider softening their stance. Sarri has chosen Luiz to be his main central defender ahead of Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen and his performances have been better than the media narrative suggests.
That said, had Chelsea been able to secure any of their central defensive targets in the summer would Luiz have had a chance this season? Probably not.
But, he has had a chance and he has taken it. Are there any obvious signs of his game regressing due to the fact he is over 30? None at all, and to be honest, Luiz has always had a mistake just around the corner and that fact has not changed because he is now a bit older.
If Chelsea feel they have the right replacement lined up at the right price in the summer then I can understand their ambivalence to letting Luiz go at the end of this contract. If they don’t, then it would be foolish to let an experienced defender who is performing well walk out the door for the sake of an extra 12 months on his deal.
After all, what might cost more – another 12 months of Luiz or a panic buy £60m centre back that does not work out?
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