David Luiz defying Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri’s preconceptions ‘as a player and a man’

David Luiz was an unlikely candidate to shine under Maurizio Sarri at Stamford Bridge and yet his personality and technical quality have made an impression on the new Chelsea manager

Lawrence Ostlere
Sunday 30 September 2018 14:23
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Maurizio Sarri says 1-1 draw against Liverpool was 'right result'

Of all the players to benefit from the tectonic shift caused by Maurizio Sarri’s arrival at Chelsea – bringing with him a highly fluid and technical style in wild contrast to his predecessor Antonio Conte’s structured approach – David Luiz was about as unlikely a pick as anyone in the squad.

The unpredictable Brazilian wasn’t supposed to survive the shift to a back four, playing a high line and taking high risk, ingredients which were expected to bring out the unreliable traits which were cocooned away in a protective shell during Conte’s 2016-17 title-winning season, behind N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic and flanked by Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta.

Instead he has flourished, defending decisively against Liverpool’s threatening front three while launching attacks from deep, as Chelsea came close to beating Jurgen Klopp’s side before falling to a brilliant late Daniel Sturridge goal. Sarri had been warned about David Luiz before he arrived at Stamford Bridge, yet his preconceptions have quickly been defied.

“He is much better than I thought before [I arrived],” said Sarri. “Much better, as a player and a man. I don’t know what happened before but when I arrived immediately I had a feeling he is a very good player for my way of football as he is a very technical centre back. I appreciate very much the man as he is direct. If he has to say something to me, he does that.”

It’s fair to say Conte didn’t take too kindly to that directness. “I don’t know [why],” said Sarri. “But I like direct people. Very much.

“He was a little confused as two seasons ago he was a protagonist but then came six months without playing. So he was a little confused. I think he is very able to play my way with his characteristics. He is very technical and understands the action of the defensive line very much.”

David Luiz clears a goal-bound shot off the line

Just as Sarri demands technical skills from his defensive players, he requires a healthy work ethic from his attacking unit. Against Liverpool he got exactly that from his frontline, including his goalscorer, Eden Hazard.

“I am really very happy with him, especially in the defensive phase. In the second half when the team needed help from him, he made me very happy. This attitude is very important for us. When we are defending we need to be looking at the ball and every player has to participate in the defensive work like Eden.”

Hazard’s goal was cancelled out by Sturridge’s late strike to leave Chelsea with a bitter taste: a draw and yet a losing feeling having come so close to all three points and to climbing to the top of the Premier League. But Sarri was philosophical, and his assessment of a “wonderful match” gave an insight into how highly he values the aesthetics of football, even if when the result doesn’t satisfy.

“I don’t know, maybe,” the manager said when asked if Chelsea needed to be more ruthless. ”I don’t know. We have played very well, had five or six goal opportunities but also Liverpool had the same. We have played a top level team so I am disappointed by the result but only because they scored in the last minutes of the match. The draw is the right result for a wonderful match.”

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