Sunday 17 December 2017

Luiz shines a light on Chelsea's prospects

The new boy from Brazil is a class act, says Jamie Jackson

Only four games into his Chelsea career and David Luiz Moreira Marinho already appears as one of Roman Abramovich's shrewdest buys. Today, at Stamford Bridge, Manchester City are the visitors, and there will be little surprise if the 23-year-old, who cost £21m from Benfica in January, produces another impressive display in central defence to continue a serene entry into English football.

Carlo Ancelotti says: "He has showed the quality in his game because he is a fantastic defender with the ball. In our kind of football it is important to have two central defenders who are able to play from the back with clean passes."

City are third, two points ahead of Chelsea, and though securing Champions League football is the priority, Chelsea still fancy their chances of a late surge to retain their title. Luiz played a starring role in the 2-1 win over Manchester United that allowed them to hope, at least, that they can again claim consecutive championships.

Luiz is enjoying the challenge. "I like a lot to play strong football, I like the Premier League," he says. "This is the top, the high level for all players, every week for me is a strong challenge. Carlo Ancelotti said: 'I'm so happy, you made the best choice in your life, now you are in the best club and I hope we can grow together'."

The victory over United may mark the start of this successful symbiosis. Luiz was the defining factor in the comeback win, scoring the equaliser before proceeding to infuriate Ferguson for escaping a red card, following fouls on Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez.

For Inter's Thiago Silva, who has been Luiz's accomplice in Brazil's new central defensive pairing since last summer's World Cup, there is no surprise at the 23-year-old's impact. "David is calm and serene as well as effective," he says.

Born in Diadema, near Sao Paulo, he made his professional debut for Esporte Clube Vitoria in Brazil's third division, Serie C, six years before becoming one of Chelsea's twin marquee signings in January, alongside Fernando Torres, who cost £50m from Liverpool. Each made their debut against the Spaniard's former employers last month in the 1-0 home defeat and while Torres snatched at one gilded opportunity to score against Kenny Dalglish's side -- and is still to register for Chelsea -- David Luiz floated a 70-yard pass to the striker during the game, suggesting he would light up the league.

David Luiz, like Torres, has been bought by Abramovich (Ancelotti admitted recently that "it is not my team") to rebuild an ageing Chelsea side that contains Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda and John Terry, who have all passed 30 as their careers move towards autumn.

The Brazilian's route to west London began with rejection by Sao Paulo for being too small when he was 14. Leaving behind his father, Ladislau, a midfielder with Atletico Mineiro, and his mother, Regina, in 2002 he relocated to Vitoria, which is more than 1,200 miles away in north-east Brazil.

Four years and a sizeable growth spurt later (he is now 6ft 1in), David Luiz was in the first team, initially as a defensive midfielder before moving to centre-back, helping Vitoria to promotion in 2006. The next January he joined Benfica on loan and made his debut in March, in a 2-1 Europa League defeat against Paris St-German. He made enough of an impression that season to seal a permanent move that summer, worth around £2m.

In August 2007, he represented Brazil at the under 20 World Cup in Canada, and Dunga, then head of the senior team, was impressed enough to label him the future of the five-times world champions. Dunga still declined to pick him for last summer's World Cup, despite his having helped Benfica to a first Portuguese title in five years, as well as the League Cup. Luiz had done enough, though, to convince Chelsea's opponents today to make a €37m bid. City's offer was rejected, but Abramovich was able to convince Benfica to sell him six months later.

Joao Paulo Sampaio, his first coach at Vitoria, says the key to understanding Luiz's trajectory is his early schooling. "The defenders at the club [often] played in midfield, before shifting to centre-back," he says. "Therefore, they get more contact with the ball and a better understanding of space."

Today, Luiz should show more of this comprehension.


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