How did Chelsea's David Luiz fare in an unusual midfield role against Tottenham?
Antonio Conte had dismissed suggestions that, in light of injuries and suspensions, he would experiment with David Luiz in an unaccustomed midfield role against Tottenham Hotspur.
However, it proved to be a bluff from the Chelsea manager when his team was announced for the showdown at Wembley Stadium. Cesc Fabregas’ suspension had left Conte short of central midfield options and he opted to promote Luiz from defence.
In his first spell at Chelsea, Luiz came in for criticism from pundits including Gary Neville for his lack of positional awareness as a defender. Famously, Neville described the Brazilian international as a ‘Playstation footballer’.
Nonetheless, his ability on the ball was never in doubt and many believed he would be naturally suited to playing in midfield. It’s something Conte has clearly worked on in training and that he felt comfortable enough to select Luiz there in such a high-profile match, underlined his belief that it could work.
On the evidence of the first half, it was a decision that looked to have backfired. Luiz was caught out of position on several occasions, reminiscent of his first spell at the club. The 30-year-old’s biggest problem was that too often he was attracted to the ball like a magnet.
This ill-discipline left Chelsea’s back three exposed to the attacking threat of Christian Eriksen, who had much more freedom to pull the strings than Conte would have wanted. Luiz was shown a yellow card for a poor challenge on the Dane, which perhaps symbolised his frustration at being off the pace.
Half-time offered some respite and relief for Luiz, who tried harder to curb his natural instincts in the second period. However, it was still very apparent that he was not at ease. In typical fashion though, he played a key part in the build-up to Chelsea’s winner.
In the dying embers of the match, poised at 1-1, the former Paris St-Germain star capitalised on a poor throw out by Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris, intercepting the ball in the middle of the park. Moments later, Marcos Alonso scored his second of the game to seal Chelsea’s first Premier League victory of the campaign.
Luiz’s performance highlighted the positive and negative aspects of his game. Looking ahead, it is unlikely that Conte will continue with the experiment. With Nemanja Matic having departed for Manchester United, Fabregas’s return cannot come soon enough.
Luiz may have the physical attributes to play as a holding midfielder but not the awareness. At the top level, any weakness is magnified. He was a shining light last season in central defence and Conte will be desperate to restore him to his traditional role.