David Luiz relishes new Chelsea dawn under Maurizio Sarri
New coach has work to do to impose his vision but centre-back looks reinvigorated
Chelsea’s Brazilian defender David Luiz protests to the referee in the match against Huddersfield Town. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Of all the people who might have welcomed Antonio Conte’s departure from Chelsea this summer, David Luiz was probably quite high on the list. Even more so now after Conte’s replacement, Maurizio Sarri, promised that the Brazilian has a “big future” at Stamford Bridge.
The 31-year-old centre-back started Chelsea’s 3-0 win against Huddersfield on Saturday, in just his third league appearance since October. Ostensibly that absence was because of knee and thigh injuries but it was also clear that he and Conte were, shall we say, not the best of friends after a disagreement over tactics last season.
David Luiz seems reinvigorated under Sarri, and effusively praised the new coach’s approach last week, noting that he was “in love” with a style that “everyone enjoys watching”. If one were so minded, that could be interpreted as a swipe at Conte: whatever his intention, it appears that David Luiz’s admiration is mutual.
“I very much enjoy his attitude when I am working with him,” Sarri said. “He is also a very good player and a very good defender. David is very good at building up action from our defence with the way he plays. David has a big future here. He will be very useful for us but not just on the pitch – he is also important in the dressing room.”
There have been some doubts about how quickly Chelsea’s defenders can adapt to a four-man backline after playing in a three for most of Conte’s tenure, and about David Luiz in particular. He excelled in Conte’s system during their title-winning season of 2016-17, with protection from the defenders either side of him.
Sarri is confident he can make the adjustment, though. “I disagree that he can only play as one of three central defenders. If you are a good defender you can play in a defensive line of three and you can also play in a four. I don’t know about what happened in the past but now he has a good chance. We only have to carry on like we are doing now with him.”
David Luiz’s partnership with Antonio Rüdiger might prove key, both men relearning how to play in a pair rather than a trio. “We have a good understanding and he is a quality player,” the German said. “We helped each other in the game.”
Advice for Kepa
A further complication is the integration of Kepa Arrizabalaga, signed to replace Thibaut Courtois and thrown straight in to the team on Saturday. At one point during the game Luiz took the new goalkeeper aside to offer some advice, no doubt gratefully received after a whirlwind week for the 23-year-old. “He did well,” Rüdiger said of Kepa. “He tried to speak as much as he can. When we needed to help him, we helped him.”
Sarri said last week that it might take a two or three months for his team to play as he wants them to. Against Huddersfield there were glimpses of his vision, but it is clear there is still plenty of work to do. “We had some problems in the first half with pressing against their three defenders,” Sarri said. “We have to improve in moving the ball faster. We did it better in the second, [when] there was more space and time.”
The good news for Sarri is that over the next few weeks, he will have some time on the training ground to drill his players. “We are lucky now because for three or four weeks we can work with only one match a week. We have to improve in this month, then it might be difficult with the three matches in a week. I hope in this month to improve the team.” – Guardian