Chelsea defender David Luiz ready to step up from PlayStation to face the real thing
Brazilian defender hands Chelsea a big boost by recovering from injury for Champions League final
Sidelined for four weeks with a hamstring problem, David Luiz finally returned to full training yesterday as Chelsea's build-up to Saturday's Champions League final reached a critical stage. Hardly the ideal preparation for a central defender who will shoulder responsibility for blunting a Bayern Munich attack led by Mario Gomez, a striker Luiz admits he has faced "just in PlayStation".
That in itself is apt. After all, the Brazil international's first full season at Chelsea hit a low point when Gary Neville memorably suggested the Chelsea centre-back played as though he was controlled by a "10-year-old on a PlayStation" after defeat against Liverpool in November as the club's season started to unravel.
At that point, it was hard to imagine Luiz would, six months later, find himself with the opportunity to deliver the perfect retort to Neville's criticism; a Champions League winner's medal.
Then, the 25-year-old's occasional lapses in concentration and discipline planted seeds of doubt about his ability to quickly establish himself in the Premier League following his £25m move from Benfica the previous January.
The curly wigs Chelsea supporters had adopted as Luiz quickly acquired cult hero status were less visible at Stamford Bridge – "They love my hair, they don't love me," joked Luiz when asked about his relationship with the supporters this week – and the arrival of Gary Cahill in January ensured he would face more pressure in his bid to establish himself alongside John Terry.
The turn of the year, however, also marked the moment when Luiz's performances improved and with Terry and Branislav Ivanovic suspended he and Cahill, injuries to both players permitting, will play in partnership in central defence in the Allianz Arena.
Luiz, who was injured in the FA Cup semi-final victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, is confident there is no risk of his hamstring failing and insists he will be able to handle the threat posed by Gomez, and the pace of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry.
"I took treatment every day, in the morning, in the afternoon and evening," he said. "People don't know that but I was always hopeful and now I'm so happy because I am 100 per cent [fit] for training. I can do all the movements and I am so happy for that."
Certainly the loss of Luiz or Cahill or, in what interim coach Roberto Di Matteo described as a "worst-case scenario", would deliver a significant blow to Chelsea hopes of beating Bayern in their own stadium. It would also deny Luiz a long-standing ambition. "One day when I was a kid in Brazil it was my dream [to play in a major final] and now I get my chance next Saturday to play in the Champions League final," he said. "Everyone will stop in to watch the game [at home]."
Luiz watched Bayern's appearance in the German Cup final last weekend where he saw Gomez and his team-mates suffer an embarrassing 5-2 defeat against Borussia Dortmund.
That will have provided him with a more accurate portrayal of Saturday's opponents than the one on his gaming console, although the centre-back insists a different Bayern will turn up on Saturday night. "They will be more angry when they play against Chelsea now," he said.
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