Is David Luiz the weakest link at Chelsea?

There was a lot of talk this summer upon the arrival of Jose Mourinho back at Stamford Bridge that David Luiz could be headed for the exit.

Since the 26-year-old centre-back joined the Blues in 2011, he has been praised and criticized in almost equal measure – his performances have been inconsistent overall and inconsistent over 90 minutes.

There is no doubting his obvious talent and his inclusion at international level with Brazil is a mark of his exceptional gifts as a footballer but as a defender in the Premier League, there are still a number of questions he has yet to answer.

Incidentally, it’s no surprise to me that the much-maligned Rafael Benitez deployed Luiz as defensive holding midfielder for some of last term – I also wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, that is where he finds his best position. He does not seem defensively at top level enough of the time for Chelsea and it’s causing them real problems – as evident on Saturday at St James’ Park.

Against Newcastle, a number of Chelsea’s team were poor and Mourinho said much the same in his post-match interview – he admitted he’d made 11 mistakes which, although gives the team an idea of how disappointed he was with their performance in the 2-0 defeat, it wasn’t actually all 11 players that lost them the game.

Not scoring and not taking or creating enough chances is one thing but that won’t lose you games – conceding goals will. Out of the back-four on Saturday, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole were not completely without fault but those three are three of best defenders in the world and have been for the best part of decade now. I have to say, I believe Luiz is the weak link in the backline and Mourinho needs to address that elephant in the room.

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Over 90 minutes Luiz operated an 83.5% pass completion rate which, on paper, sounds alright and not too alarming but, crucially, the difference between his first half and his second half is cause for concern. In the first half he completed 86.2% of his passes but in the second that dropped to 78.5% which for a defender is poor, never mind a defender with title-winning ambitions.

Even an attacking midfielder misplacing that many passes (21.5% of them) would come in for criticism at a top level club like Chelsea and that’s just his passing. It’s no coincidence that Newcastle’s two goals came in the last half an hour of the game – in that period Luiz’s pass rate dropped even lower to 77%.

Meanwhile, tackling is bread and butter for a centre-back but Luiz was successful in just 33% of his attempted tackles over 90 minutes and 0% successful in the last half an hour.

He didn’t make a single block all game. He was 100% successful with headed clearances and clearances in general in the first half and 0% successful in the last half an hour. He didn’t make a single clearance in the last half hour. He won 100% of his aerial duels in the first half and just 33% in the last half hour.

David Luiz’ story on Saturday is the epitome of David Luiz’ story in general – he was and is fantastic for half or even two thirds of the time for Chelsea but poor the other half or third of the time. You can’t be solid for 45 or even 60 minutes because, as Newcastle reminded Chelsea and David Luiz, there are is an abundance of time to score goals and win game – especially if your defence or defenders switch off.

His defensive partner Terry was 93% successful with his passes over 90 minutes, dropping to 86.2% in he second half, he was 100% successful with his tackles over 90 minutes, made two crucial blocks, both in the second half incidentally, made 11 out of 11 (1005 successful) clearances over 90 minutes, and won 6 out of 7 aerial duels (85.7% success).

That is the kind of performance and consistency Chelsea are used to and, I’m afraid, David Luiz is letting his partner, his side and his manager down with his lapses in concentration and his lack of commitment over 90 minutes.

image: © Ben Sutherland

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