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Is David Luiz actually at fault for 63 per cent of goals Chelsea conceded this season?

David Luiz takes a familiar turn on riding the scapegoat

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Just as YouTube highlights can make any player look good, selectively edited videos and blooper reels can make any player look bad. Of course, when it comes to David Luiz, who’s been fighting an uphill battle against the narrative ever since his arrival in England in 2011, the blame-game is a fertile ground to plow. Whether it’s the hair, the avant-garde defending, the hair, the rushes of blood to the head, or the hair, he’s an easy and obvious target.

The video and “stat” that has been making the rounds since the Spurs defeat — a “disaster” in which everybody played badly — is that David Luiz has been “directly at fault” for 7 of the 11 league goals Chelsea have conceded this season, a “staggering” 63.64 per cent! If you’ve been hiding under a rock, far away from social media since the defeat (and I wouldn’t blame you), here’s the video.

Assigning individual blame in a team-game is a silly proposition by definition, but that’s never stopped anyone from doing so before. David is just the latest lightning rod, carrying on proud traditions forged by the likes of Mikel, Torres, Kalou, Team Rampard, early-days Drogba, David Luiz Mk.1, etc. The concept of a scapegoat has been around since at least the time of Leviticus, two and a half millennia ago.

Blaming David Luiz for direct involvement in goals given up from free kicks (2 of the 7) does seem to be stretching the definition of “direct”, and before the Spurs debacle, this “stat” was far less damning (3 of 8), though he’s undeniably has had his fair share of bad plays. Falling asleep on crosses, not tracking runners, getting sucked to the ball, failing the first rule of defending (man or ball, but not both) ... we’ve seen it all before.

But any such reductive analysis ignores the good things he brings to the table, which he himself felt was worth pointing out once this fact reached his social media feed. “Leaders always take responsibility.” I do question the wisdom of reading your own press, especially the social kind.

Beyond just the hard-to-quantify amount of “leadership” or veteran experience he brings to the table, David Luiz remains, for example, the best long-passer of any center back in the squad and that ability and vision continues to be valued by managers, including Maurizio Sarri. Football statistics are almost as limited as video low/highlight reels, but he’s by far the most prolific at playing whatever Opta defines as long balls: 80/137 (58%) in the Premier League. Rudiger’s no slouch either (62/99, 63%), which would seem to indicate that Sarri wants this quality in both of his center backs. By comparison, in more limited action, Christensen is easily the least successful at this (5/11), while Cahill has attempted even fewer (7/9). In fact, with David Luiz and Rudiger combining for 18 long balls per Premier League contest and Cahill and Christensen combining for about 5 per Europa League encounter, the difference between the two pairs is significant in this regard.

Long passing is just one aspect of playing defense in Sarrismo. There’s also pressing, maintaining proper spacing and positioning, covering for each other’s mistakes (one of the main reasons Conte went with three at the back), and probably many more, and that’s before we even get to the part where Chelsea insist on playing out from the back these days as is the trend in modern football. Christensen’s passing remains much more limited than David Luiz’s — your eye might disagree with mine of course — and that can prove just as crucial as the occasional defensive lapse.

To answer the original question, is David Luiz at directly at fault for ‘x’ number of goals? Probably. So are many others in the team. Individual errors are unavoidable, especially if they are caused by deficiencies in the system and errors in execution elsewhere — for example, David Luiz went from liability to Champions League hero in the space of four months in 2012, and he wasn’t the only one.

The blame game also ignores all the good plays that David Luiz has made, all the times he’s covered his man, made the crucial tackle, interception, clearing header. If all he did was make mistakes, he would surely not play as often as he does. That appeal to authority is a bit of a logical fallacy but while Sarri may be idealistic to a fault, there are probably limits to his self-sabotage.

At 32 years old and with an expiring contract, David Luiz is not a long-term solution anymore for Chelsea. An argument could be made that Andreas Christensen should be played more just for those two reasons. Perhaps he should, though his performances thus far this season haven’t been stellar either.

Is David Luiz directly at fault for 7 goals this season? Maybe. Maybe not. He’s probably at fault for all 11 league goals (third best in the Premier League) we’ve conceded this season, alongside every other player on the pitch. The real question that we should be asking and we will be finding out the answer to this winter is: Can Chelsea implement Sarri-ball and make it work — with or without David Luiz — or will we run out of patience and good results a la AVB and Scolari?

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