Luiz In Midfield: Easy Solution To A Complex Problem?

Is Luiz A Midfielder?

When David Luiz was first given a chance to play as a central midfielder by Rafael Benitez, it was in a match that was already won and whose result was irrelevant: Nordsjaelland in Chelsea’s final group game in the Champions League. With Juventus leading Shakhtar 1-0 (that was how the match ended), Chelsea were sure to be knocked out of the Champions League. And so Benitez decided to give Luiz some time in the middle of the park. Even though the quality of opposition was poor and the match was already won, Luiz clearly seemed to enjoy his new role and impressed many with his performance, including his manager. Why else would he decide to hand him a start as a central midfielder in Chelsea’s Club World Cup semi-final against Monterrey?

Luiz played only 60 minutes of the game against Monterrey, but his performance was brilliant to say the least. The English media were clearly impressed, with words like “brainwave” and “revelation” being thrown around. Benitez himself seems to think Luiz would be suited to a midfield role. In a recent pre-match press conference, he said.  “He likes to play, he wants to help and he wants to win. In midfield it’s easier for him because as a centre-back it only takes one mistake and everyone will be watching him.” Indeed, Luiz can be a liability in defence at times. And his passing and creativity works very well in midfield. However, playing Luiz in midfield may be an easy solution but not necessarily the correct one.

Chelsea are currently in the process of changing their style of play from a direct, physical one to a more intricate pass-and-move style. The playing style that Chelsea are trying to emulate requires the presence of a ball-playing centre-half like David Luiz in the heart of the defence, someone who can start attacks from the back and even go forward to aid the attack whenever necessary. The problem with ball-playing centre-backs is that when they do go forward, they leave a massive hole at the back. This problem is usually solved by a central midfielder dropping deep and covering for the defender. In theory, this appears very simple. In reality, it’s not.

Let’s take another look at the Leeds game and the one goal that Leeds scored. Luiz, as he normally does, ventured forward with the ball and ended up in the attacking third. That in itself should have been a signal for either Lampard or Oscar (who were playing in midfield that night) to drop back and cover for Luiz should he lose the ball. Luiz lost the ball and Leeds hit us with a swift counter-attack that resulted in a goal simply because we were one man short in defence. Now don’t get me wrong, it was foolish of Luiz to venture forward and lose the ball as carelessly as he did. However, what people failed to notice (or chose to ignore) was that Lampard, who was in a decent position to actually drop back, failed to do so and that in turn left us horribly exposed to the counter-attack.

Another reason some say they want Luiz to play as a midfielder is because he “can’t defend”. That’s not true at all. Had it not been for his presence in defence against Corinthians in the Club World Cup finals, Chelsea would have lost by a  larger margin. Gary Cahill was poor that night (again, something people either failed to notice or chose to ignore) and Luiz had an excellent game, bossing Paulo Guerrero off the ball on a few occasions. Even before this game he has shown solidity in defence in several games (think back to the Benfica game in last season’s Champions League or the City game in the Premier League this season). The difference between Luiz and a defender like John Terry is that he isn’t a traditional centre-back who sits deep, he likes to go forward and assist in attack whenever he can. This may seem strange, but curtailing the attacking side of his game defeats the very purpose of playing him as a ball-playing centre-half in the first place.

Instead of preventing Luiz from going forward and joining in on the attack, the focus should be on raising the defensive awareness of Chelsea’s midfield. Whenever Luiz is in possession and out of position, one of the central midfielders must immediately move back and take up his position. This way, we won’t be exposed to a counter attack should Luiz be caught off guard. That being said, Luiz himself needs to work on timing his runs and not going forward whenever he feels like it. But stopping Luiz from running forward is not the solution and neither is playing him as a midfielder. It won’t be easy, but the best attacking teams are adept at covering for one another and working hard defensively. However, it is the only way forward if Chelsea are to complete their transformation into an attack-minded team.

  1. Rory says

    I actually agree with you on this one. With Romeu out and Mikel off to ACoN we need a bog standard defensive midfielder. Lampard can’t play this role as you correctly pointed out, he hasn’t the best spacial awareness for defending when it comes to slotting in when the fullbacks or anyone else decides to go forward. Oscar too is a more attack minded midfielder and Ramires is more of a box-to-box midfielder. The lack of depth in midfield is worrying, especially entering the Christmas period. That being said I don’t think we should go for Fellaini in January as he is not the answer to our problems.

  2. tony cliff says

    Nice piece and like what the Corinthians manager said his boys learnt that a good team can beat a bunch of individuals I felt bad wen he sed that but its d truth Luiz should be alowed to play his game if we attack n deffend as a team his forward runs won’t be a problem Mikel use to sit at the back before but since Benitez came he rearly plays him dats d only midfilder I know we have dat can be disiplined to sit while luiz surges forward

  3. Vaibhav Kumble says

    To be honest i would not likke to change Luiz’ natural position.. Which is a centre back.. Rather i would change our formation to a 4-1-4-1.. That way our def MF wont have to venture forward a lot and stay back.. So even if Luiz (or Cahill for that matter) go forward the DM can stay back.. And Mikel and Romeu are good enough for me.

    1. Zane says

      The 4-1-4-1 formation is the shape we turn into when Lampard runs forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation,leaving us exposed to counter attacks. This formation is very risky bro especially with all the small built attacking players upfront.

      1. Vaibhav Kumble says

        It becomes risky when the def MD is out of position as well as the def. If we keep d 4-1-4-1 formation. Then d DM has to stay back no matter what.. That way our def wont get opened up.. Obv you need the full backs to do their def jobs. Meaning one stays back when d other goes forward keeping 4 back all d time..

  4. Cezzy says

    I don’t kno why nobody see this;but i think chelsea shuld buy a defender in january change luiz postion(CM/CDM).then buy willan and maybe Falcao(but he will be eroupa league tied)

    1. Vaibhav Kumble says

      Y do we need to keep buying players.. Y not groom d young?? Y cant we wait a yr.. ?!!

  5. Smell says

    Totally disagree with this article
    Luiz is young fast and strong, he aches for the ball and it is clear to all that he wants to score above all. A defender is not supposed to be like that, he isn’t supposed to hunger for goals, our (because I also am a defender) joy lies in interceptions, in blocking the ball on the line, in that last minute tackle that stops the attacker dead. We concentrate on mentally crippling the attacker and enabling our keeper to have a safe game.
    This isn’t what Luiz does, this isn’t what he is. He’s good in defence but he isn’t a european defender, he’s a defender from Brazil..
    – He dribbles attackers (who don’t exactly care because most are terrible defenders and have plenty of people behind them)
    – and passes the ball like a genius (pass to Hazard against Leeds).
    He does this as a defender mind you so what does happens when he loses the ball? (Goal for Leeds). Of course someone COULD cover for him, but when he has more pace and technical ingenuity than the guy in front of him, why not give him a chance?
    Push him up the field and what do you get? You get this crazy haired geezer, who’s bursting of energy, who’s always positive, who just wants to play and win a match. You’ve got someone who leads by example. You’ve got a geezer who knows the coach has thought about his position and decided that his offensive skills (passing and duels) are top-drawer but that coach also knows that this geezer has the defensive skills to correctly back up his defence if they ever go roaming forward (which the article states is a key part of our strategy).
    Cahill, Iva and Terry are all central defenders. They are all known as scorers (Cahill and Iva especially love running forward, just need to see a match to acknowledge this). No need to buy new defenders either, Nathan Ake is strong for his age and Jeffrey Bruma is doing great for Hamburg give him another year and Ake another two and we’ve got great back up for Iva, Cahill and Terry.
    An easy solution to a complex problem? Yes I believe it is, but it is said that the easiest answer is most often the right one.

    1. Anonymous says

      well said

    2. Anonymous says

      very well said !

  6. monropsportz says

    I agree, it looks like Luiz is a short-term solution to Chelsea’s problem in terms of their defensive-midfield set-up. watching him in midfield is very interesting, though; he is like a new signing, as opposition midfield systems aren’t so well practised at dealing with him in that position. Versatility is vital in a trophy-winning squad, too. Check out my analysis of the situation and let me know what you think!

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