David Luiz vs. Nemanja Matic: Who Held Better in Paris


In their Champions League match PSG turned some heads by fielding former Chelsea ‘geezer’ David Luiz in midfield, a risky strategy used by Jose Mourinho against PSG in last year’s Champions League clash between the two teams. It was really quite cheeky of Laurent Blanc, and a bit risky too. It paid off, however, and Luiz had another great night in Paris’ midfield.

More from The Pride of London

It’s hard to imagine that the thought of comparing the old with the new did not cross Mourinho’s mind, as it crossed the minds of most fans. So let’s take the chance to dissect the performances of Luiz and Nemanja Matic, and determine who held the midfield better in Paris (all stats taken from WhoScored.com).

Edge: David Luiz

DISCLAIMER: A small rant will follow, if you don’t care for it, skip the next two paragraphs:

You would think that, just by logic, the natural midfielder should have the offensive edge over the out-of-place one… but if you think that, you might very well be one of those people that puts 5 attacking midfielders on your dream XI. The presence of a true holding midfielder is the difference between a balanced team and a scrambled one.

The chemistry between the creative and the holding midfielders makes or breaks a team. Matic destroys the opposition’s attack, and Cesc creates from Matic’s spoils. Elsewhere, famous engine rooms exist: Fernando & Toure, Modric & Kroos, Mascherano & Xavi, the list goes on. How often do I find myself frustrated when playing Brazil on Fifa, and the manager subs out Luiz Gustavo for Coutinho! If there can be a distinction between CAMs and wingers, you should be able to distinguish between holding and creative midfielders.

Ok… that’s better. With all that said, Luiz does have more offensive duties than Matic. He is a free-kick taker, and a target in the box during corners. He had these responsibilities during his time at the Bridge too, but Matic did not inherit them. However, during last Tuesday’s game, that is not where Luiz shone offensively. Sure, he took two shots on goal while Matic took none, but they were both from free kicks, and neither tested the keeper.

Luiz’s edge in offense came from his intent. Throughout the night, Luiz was a lot more positive and pressing on the ball than his Blues counterpart. While Matic spent his time struggling to provide a screen for the back four, Luiz performed that with ease, allowing him to drive further up. A quick glance at their heat maps illustrates this perfectly:

                David Luiz                                                  Matic

*Heatmap from WhoScored.com*

Luiz’s heatmap shows a general concentration in screening the back four, but a large concentration in going above the halfway line to distribute. Matic’s shows a very small concentration above the halfway line, and a huge defensive focus.

The difference might be explained by formation: Luiz had an extra man supporting the center midfield, while Matic had a lone partner in Ramires. In contrast, during the recent game against Everton (a team that also plays 4-2-3-1), Matic’s heatmap is much more evenly distributed, and concentrated above the halfway line (click here to see that map). But, regardless of the reason, David Luiz takes the offensive edge.

Slight edge: David Luiz

This category was a bit tougher to make a call on, simply because their stats were eerily similar. They were only a few numbers apart on pretty much everything!

Passes: Luiz (89), Matic (85) – Dribbles: Luiz (2), Matic (2) – Touches: Luiz (99), Matic (96)

Luiz has an insignificant edge on both passes and touches, and they are tied on dribbles. It would have been a tie in my book, had it not been for the possession lost stats. Luiz only lost the ball once, while Matic was robbed of possession 3 times. It may not sound like much, but when your team has only managed two shots on goal, keeping possession in the midfield can be crucial.

They are still pretty much tied in distribution, but since Luiz had slightly better passing, touched the ball a bit more, and lost it a bit less, you have to let the little things add up, and give the man a slight edge here.

Underwhelming Tie

Gosh, here’s another tough one. These guys were almost identical defensively, but there were slight differences at the end of the night. Matic (4, 1, 3 respectively) beats Luiz (3, 0, 2 respectively) on attempted tackles, interceptions, and blocks. Luiz (2, 3 respectively) takes the edge over Matic (1, 1 respectively) on clearances and fouls. They tie on areal duels, having each won two.

Truth be told, when compared to their other teammates, neither pulled their weight defensively. Ramires and Willian both tackled more than Matic, and the same is true about Matuidi and Verratti when compared to Luiz. In fact, the only place that either one leads their team is in blocks, where Matic had the most out of his team.

Matic had much more to deal with than Luiz last Tuesday

That being said, it makes sense that Matic would have slightly higher numbers defensively, being that PSG dominated possession and were overall more positive on the ball. Matic simply had more chances to defend than Luiz did.

At the end of the day, the two goals of the game sum up the defensive contribution of both players pretty well. David Luiz lost a foot-race with Ivanovic, and Matic might as well have been a spectator in the stands as he watched Matuidi’s cross into the box without moving an inch. Luiz was more aggressive and positive in his defensive duties, but Matic just had more to deal with. I would not pick between the two.

Wrapping it All Up

There is no doubt in my mind that Matic is a better holding midfielder than David Luiz. He has been absolutely brilliant this season, and is the envy of every EPL team. Last Tuesday, though, David made Mourinho miss his services. Without a suitable replacement, Matic is the only way to balance the midfield, and that can be very tiring with Chelsea involved in so many competitions.

More from Champions League

If I was Mourinho, I would be thinking about a good backup for Matic this summer (a real one, not Mikel). I am sure Luiz Gustavo could be tempted to join his Brazilian friends atthe Bridge, Sami Khedira is looking for a new place to play, while Nathan Ake is impressive and free… but that is a whole different topic, best suited for another day.

Photos by @cfcunoffical. On Twitter and at CFCUnofficial.com

Next: Chelsea vs Burnley: Keys To The Match