Jamie Carragher says “faultless” Chelsea “sweeper” David Luiz deserves to be nominated as one of the players of the year.
The former Liverpool stalwart Carragher cannot speak too highly of the Brazil international and marked turn around from when Luiz arrived back at Stamford Bridge via Paris Saint-Germain.
The 29-year-old resigned for Chelsea last August for £29.75million from the Ligue 1 outfit and several eyebrows were raised, inlcluding Carragher’s who was sure it was a wrong move by Antonio Conte.
However, Luiz has been one of Chelsea’s standout performers alongside, Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kante and Diego Costa and the player once described by Gary Neville as looking like he was controlled by “a 10-year-old on a PlayStation” has proved his worth for the champions elect. And Carragher has acknowledged the fact.
In his Daily Mail column, Carragher wrote: “As last summer’s transfer window closed in August, I could not stop shaking my head in disbelief as the biggest story of the day unfolded.
“David Luiz back to Chelsea? Seriously? Even though there was TV footage of him walking through St Pancras station after his Eurostar had arrived from Paris, I couldn’t work out why this reunion was taking place.”
“The feeling was that top managers around the world could not trust the Brazil international and I have no doubt on August 31 that Antonio Conte would have felt that way.
“It looked to be a transfer loaded with risk and the feeling was enhanced after his first three games. Chelsea conceded seven goals in that sequence, lost two Premier League games to Liverpool and Arsenal and Luiz was booked in the 4-2 League Cup win at Leicester.
“But then Conte got to work and came up with the system that is propelling Chelsea to the title and has turned Luiz into one of the Premier League’s outstanding performers. A measure of his new-found discipline is that his brilliant goal at Liverpool was his first of the year.”
Carragher, who believes Conte has been instrumental in the revival of Luiz, says his new kingpin role for the Blues would have been called a “sweeper” in years gone by.
“Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation has revitalised Eden Hazard and allowed Victor Moses to finally establish himself in the team but, more than anything, it has given a responsibility to Luiz that has brought a maturity to his approach and his game,” added Carragher.
“In the past, you would have been classed as a sweeper if you were put in the middle of a three-man defence. It was the role for the ball-playing centre back, so you would say that role was ideal for Luiz. In the current game, however, the middle man has to be much more restrained.
“Look at the figures. So far this season Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill have made far more passes, their totals of 1,420 and 1,145 dwarfing the 827 of Luiz. To give you an idea of how much time these players have on the ball, Azpilicueta averages 77.2 touches per game. Luiz is on only 57.4.
“I was critical of Luiz in the past for being too hot-headed and emotional — recall how he cried during the national anthems at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil — but Conte so far has stripped that from him.
“Last season I regarded Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen as the best central defenders in the Premier League but such has been Chelsea’s defensive improvement — both teams have conceded only 16 goals — you have to put Luiz right up there.
“He has helped keep 12 clean sheets so far but his best figure is the zero in the column reserved for errors that have led to goals. That is where defenders will always be judged and, so far, Luiz has been almost faultless, with Opta’s stats showing just one error in 19 appearances that led to a shot.
“Faultless is not a word I ever expected to use about him.
“So as the transfer window closed this week, I found myself looking at Luiz and contemplating just how much has changed since he returned to the Premier League. The only reason I shook my head on Tuesday was because of his quality, ” continued Carragher.
“His strike for the free-kick, of course, was outstanding but so, too, was his all-round game and it left me thinking about the end of the season.
“Frank Lampard stated his case last week for why Azpilicueta should be a candidate, explaining that he is ‘perfect’ to play in that position on the right side of defence and does ‘two jobs at once’. He has been a model of consistency.
“Yet why should Luiz not be considered? He has always looked every inch the modern defender, a big, strong powerhouse who can move. He has always had talent but now he has added discipline it is all coming together.”