When David Luiz completed his £50 million move to Paris Saint-Germain from Chelsea in the summer of 2014, the default reaction in England was to scoff. The Brazilian centre-back developed a reputation as something of a liability during his three years in the Premier League, derided as too instinctive and flamboyant to play in the heart of the backline.

Much of the criticism was fair: Luiz had a habit of making costly errors at Chelsea and, despite his undisputed natural ability, had been relegated to the substitutes’ bench by manager Jose Mourinho because he was perceived as too much of a risk.

There was, however, also a sense that Luiz was simply an unnatural fit with the English game, his manner of defending seen as incompatible with the values traditionally expounded on these shores. It was an issue highlighted by pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher in 2013, the pair suggesting that much of the criticism of Luiz in England came because his interpretation of the centre-back position – including playing on the front-foot, aggressively pushing up the pitch and a willingness to defend against a striker one-on-one – was so different to theirs and their countrymen’s.

£50 million is clearly an enormous fee – particularly for a defender – but Luiz has shown since making the move to PSG that he has a lot to offer. For a club owned by the extraordinary wealthy Qatar Sports Investments, moreover, such a sum is relatively insignificant.

Luiz was highly impressive last term, putting a disappointing World Cup behind him as PSG won their third consecutive Ligue 1 title and also reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the third year in a row. It is in the latter competition that Laurent Blanc’s side will be most tested this season: PSG are already five points clear at the top of the table in France’s top flight and will therefore be focusing the majority of their efforts on reaching the last four of Europe’s principal tournament for the first time.

In Ligue 1, though, Luiz has added an important dimension to the Parisians’ play. It was in evidence in the first Classique of the season with Marseille before the international break, when Luiz helped PSG secure a narrow 2-1 win.

Marseille were bold in their approach at the Parc des Princes, sending men forward to attack the hosts and deservedly taking the lead through Michy Batshuayi. Like many of PSG’s opponents this year, they pressed in midfield, looking to disrupt Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti in the engine room.

Michel’s outfit, however, were generally unwilling to close down too high up the pitch, which meant PSG’s centre-halves Luiz and Thiago Silva enjoyed plenty of time on the ball. It was here that Luiz’s ability in possession came into its own, with the 28-year-old assuming a playmaking role from the middle of his team’s defence.

Luiz’s vision is therefore vital for PSG, with his range of passing enabling the aforementioned midfielders to assume positions higher up the field and avoid dropping too deep and becoming ineffective. The Brazilian’s willingness to step into midfield and carry the ball forward also offers his side another attacking source from deep; with PSG usually utterly dominant in Ligue 1 encounters, furthermore, Blanc need not worry about Luiz coming under too much pressure defensively.

Whether or not the 1998 World Cup winner is concerned about Luiz’s position as a centre-back in the Champions League remains to be seen. A clash with Real Madrid next Wednesday, for example, would likely have seen Luiz challenged defensively by the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo had he not picked up a knee injury last week.

Domestically, however, Luiz has added a great deal to Blanc’s PSG. The former Chelsea man’s proactive and optimistic approach to defending was never likely to go down well in England but, over in the French capital, where PSG control most games and are tasked with breaking down compact and defensive units on an almost weekly basis, his superb technique and ability to pass and dribble with the ball solves more problems than it causes.

Formational shifts away from two strikers to one in the last couple of decades have seen the centre-back as a deep-lying playmaker become a more common phenomenon: with one defender marking the opposition forward, his partner is theoretically freer to focus on distributing the ball from the back. Louis van Gaal’s decision to field midfielder Daley Blind in the backline this year is likely motivated by such thinking, so too Barcelona’s redeployment of Javier Mascherano in their defence and Pep Guardiola’s use of Javi Martinez in the same role at Bayern Munich.

It is a function that Luiz is fulfilling in Paris, too. It may not have been Neville and Carragher’s favoured style of defending, but it is serving the Ligue 1 leaders extremely well at present.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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Dropping two points at home to a side in 10th position is usually a bad result for a title contender. However, while Paris Saint-Germain fans will certainly not have been too enamoured by their side’s 2-2 draw with Bordeaux at the Parc des Princes on Friday night, the scoreline will almost certainly make no difference to their domestic aspirations this term.

Bordeaux, a side who won the league in 2009 and finished sixth last year, are certainly no pushovers, yet PSG were widely expected to secure their fifth victory in five games so far this season. Had they done so, they would have equalled the Ligue 1 record of 14 consecutive wins that Bordeaux themselves set in the 2008-09 campaign, when they were managed by current PSG boss Laurent Blanc.

Despite Friday’s setback, the situation in France’s top flight means that PSG need not be unduly worried. Marcelo Bielsa’s Marseille came flying out of the traps this time 12 months ago, establishing a seven-point lead over the capital club by mid-October. Hubert Fournier’s Lyon, too, punched above their weight, Les Gones going into the final few weeks of the season still with a chance of being crowned champions.

The early signs this time around, however, suggest that a three-way battle lasting for much of the campaign was an aberration that is unlikely to be repeated. PSG spent £77 million on four new additions in the summer, Angel di Maria, Kevin Trapp, Benjamin Stambouli and Layvin Kurzawa joining a team that has won the last three league championships. Since Qatar Sports Investments took over the club in 2011, PSG have spent a total of almost £400 million on new players.

Blanc’s side started the game brightly on Friday evening under the floodlights, moving the ball quickly and penning Bordeaux back inside their own half. They were good value for the lead that was given to them through Edinson Cavani after an error from Cedric Carrasso, although the visitors rallied well and equalised almost immediately when PSG keeper Kevin Trapp inadvertently palmed Henri Saivet’s flicked header into the net.

It did not take long for Cavani to fire his side 2-1 in front, however, the Uruguayan expertly dispatching a free-kick to restore PSG’s lead. Di Maria should have given the hosts a two-goal cushion just before the interval, but he shot straight at Carrasso when put through one-on-one.

PSG continued to dominate at the start of the second half, but Bordeaux rallied and enjoyed a good spell where they could easily have grabbed an equaliser. The chance to level the scores seemed to have been denied to them when Saivet was sent off, but another dreadful mistake from Trapp late on allowed Wahbi Khazri to steal in and ensure Bordeaux left the Parc des Princes with a point.

While Blanc and the club’s fans would evidently have been disappointed with the outcome, everyone associated with PSG knows that the Champions League is their biggest challenge this season. Indeed, the question is not really who will lift the 2015/16 Ligue 1 title, but how early PSG will wrap it up.

Having reached the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier continental club competition in each of the last three campaigns, PSG will be looking to go one better by reaching the last four this time around. It remains to be seen whether the relative lack of competition domestically will help or hinder that ambition.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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