David Luiz or Alex: Villas-Boas's Selection Dilemma in Stats



Chelsea’s rock solid defence has been a key feature of the team’s success during and since the Mourinho era. Last season our back four only let 33 goals in, joint lowest in the EPL, and they were not prone to mistakes too often.

However the start of this season has seen our central defence pairing look somewhat shaky, with Alex’s inability to prevent Shane Long from scoring nearly costing us against West Brom, and Ivanovic looking incapable of marking his man at all. Furthermore, stalwart Terry has struggled with Villas-Boas’ high line.

After the jump let's take a shot at nailing down just what is Chelsea's best centre-back pairing.

David Luiz has returned from knee tendonitis sustained during international duty with Brazil at the Copa America, but he returned to full training yesterday and the young defender will be seemingly integrated back into first team action at Stamford Bridge.

He has shown flashes of brilliance but also moments of rashness in his first six months at the club, but he has the backing of Ancelotti to become the best defender in the world. There’s no doubt over his potential, it’s just a question of his suitability in a starting role.

That’s the funny thing about Chelsea. We have four centre backs who all in their own right deserve to be a starting defender. This debate can be found lacking in objectivity, so after the jump let’s have a look in terms of statistical analysis as to who should be as Chelsea’s nominal first choice pairing.

First before we analyse the pure stats we must conclude three things. First of all, it is very unlikely John Terry is to be dropped as he is the team captain. Therefore we will not analyse his stats, as there’s little point when there’s not really going to be a question of whether he starts or not. Secondly, Ivanovic played most of last season as a right back, so his stats are flawed in a sense they do not encompass his abilities at centre back. For the purpose of this article, we will have to assume Ivanovic will not start (also because he is more likely to play right back this season in "big" games due to his defensive solidity). Thirdly, the stats below are gathered from the Premier League and excludes Champions League, as Luiz has not featured in European competition yet.

2010/11 Season

David Luiz








Yellow Cards



Red Cards



Pass Completion



Fouls Conceded



Fouls Won












Tackle Success Rate



Minutes per Tackle



Successful Tackle on "Last Man"






Average Interceptions / Game



Defensive Errors



Time Between Errors



Beaten by Dribble



Ball Turnover



Minutes per Ball Turnover



Total Ground 50/50s



Win % of Ground 50/50s



Minutes per Ground 50/50s



Total Aerial 50/50s



Minutes per Aerial 50/50s



Aerial Win %












Conversion of Chances



Time between Goals







From the table we can deduct the following points:

  • While it appears Alex makes a lot more tackles than Luiz (33), he also has a much lower success rate (22). This suggests that Luiz has better timing in the tackle and does not miss as many.
  • Furthermore, Alex concedes half the number of fouls Luiz has, confirming the well known view that Luiz is rash in the tackle. More so, Luiz wins a low amount of ground challenges for a centre back – just 51%
  • David Luiz is more comfortable coming out with the ball and spending time on it, reflected by the larger amount of fouls he has won
  • Luiz has more interceptions than Alex (13) which confirms that he is a bit quicker (which he is) and as a side note, suggests that Luiz could play in front of the defence as a holding midfielder.
  •  Luiz turns the ball every 45 minutes compared to Alex’s 185 minutes, and is beaten by a dribble a lot more than Alex (6), emphasising that as a centre back Alex adds more solidity. Elaborating on the small point above, Luiz’s pass completion is somewhat low for a centre back and in terms of a holding midfielder retaining possession he most likely would leave the defence quite exposed if deployed in Mikel’s position
  • Luiz is better in the air with a win percentage of 64% contrasting with Alex’s 59%. Interestingly enough, Luiz is actually shorter (by 1cm, mind)
  • In terms of attack, Alex appears to have a better conversion of chances, however this neglects the fact that he takes free kicks. Besides, the stats do not show how Luiz sparks plays by carrying the ball out of a defence as a ball playing centre back in the vein of a sweeper. In this regard, Luiz is subjectively the better attacker

It must be remembered that Luiz is only 24 and he still has a learning curve to go through in terms of adapting to the English game and Chelsea’s system. Both players are evenly balanced in terms of stats, but Alex appears to be the better defender when you analyse the key components of defending.

However you cannot just judge based on statistics alone. We have to analyse the bigger picture, this being the tactics deployed by Villas-Boas in relation to his defence. He likes to play a very high line, aimed at squeezing the opposition and help retain possession.

This approach has its risks in that an offside trap can be beaten by a god pass, good timing, and a fast striker. Therefore a defender with pace is an insurance policy in the event of your defensive manoeuvres being exploited. Luiz is the faster defender, and with Terry struggling to cope with the high line so far – think Grant Holt having time to do a spin and miss the ball unmarked in the box - it’s key to balance the defence with talents that can handle all possible situations.

Additionally from the tactical perspective we have a midfield that is slow to circulate the ball and spread the play. Luiz is adept at doing this, and having him at centre back raises the overall tempo of the entire play.

Furthermore, the age gap between Luiz and Alex means that Luiz is the long term future at centre back, and therefore we should theoretically try to get him as much as game time as possible.

However you can also argue that Alex offers a cool head and experience, particularly where it’s needed in the back line. This was particularly obvious in the game at Old Trafford last year when Luiz made a crucial mistake to allow Hernandez to score, and Alex’s influence shored up the backline. What’s more Alex can speak English more competently than Luiz at the moment, and communication is vital in football, especially in defence. On a short term basis, Alex is a wiser pick.

IN the end it’s hard to split. Both are evenly matched in the stats, shading each other by small margins in all but a few. From a long term point of view Luiz is the first choice, and also within the constraints of our system he is the better pick. However Alex is still a very good centre back whose mix up with Shane Long against West Brom and flirtation with Juventus during the summer should not diminish his worth to the team.

The question posed at the start of this piece has a complex answer. There are variables like the opponents, tactics, team selection, form and hair to judge when considering the first choice centre back. This may well be a season of rotation and the variables above may come to judge who plays the big games.

Having this dilemma is not exactly a bad thing – one or two coaches in London would beg for the same catch-22.

This FanPost was contributed by a member of the community and was not subject to any sort of approval process. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions held by the editors of this site.

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