Rafael Benitez has praised the character and versatility of David Luiz ahead of Sunday’s game against Aston Villa.
The Brazilian caught the eye with a mature performance in central midfield against Monterrey in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final, before reverting back to a more familiar defensive role for the final defeat against Corinthians.
He was once again in the spotlight during the 5-1 win against Leeds United on Wednesday; losing the ball from which the home side took the lead, before laying on our fourth goal for Eden Hazard with a stunning defence-splitting pass from inside his own half.
‘I encourage him to try things because that’s the best way,’ said Benitez. ‘I would be really worried if a player wasn’t prepared to try things, especially in the final third.
‘He likes to play, he wants to help and he wants to win. In midfield it’s easier for him because as a centre-back it only takes one mistake and everyone will be watching him.
‘He enjoys playing football, he likes to get forward and pass the ball. As a centre-back, he’s so good at many things, but adjusting other things will make him even better.
‘He showed character; he gave the ball away but it wasn’t a proper mistake as he had two players behind him. After that he was one of our best players, he provided the pass to [Eden] Hazard.’
Having trailed to Leeds at half-time, it would have been easy for the players, particularly after such a gruelling schedule, to allow their heads to drop.
Five second-half goals, however, eased us into the last four of the Capital One Cup, and Benitez was delighted with the work-rate of his team, particularly coming so soon after returning from Japan.
‘It wasn’t just that we played well, but we played with a lot of energy and intensity until the end, which was good,’ he explained. ‘I knew that some players were tired, the day before we were training and I spoke with the fitness coach. I said we needed to be careful with certain players.
‘I didn’t want to change too many, I decided to keep the majority of players but also have some fresh legs. In the first half we were good, but their keeper played well. In the second half we were amazing, we played with a high tempo, were good in possession and had a lot of energy when we gave the ball away.’
Benitez has also been impressed with the performances of Frank Lampard in recent weeks, after the midfielder returned to action in the 3-1 win at Sunderland prior to the trip to the Far East.
‘Oscar and Frank did a great job (against Leeds),’ he said. ‘In the last five minutes Frank wanted to score a goal so he pushed higher up the pitch.
‘You could see the other day he was fully committed and he’s a great player, so I will try to bring the best from him in every game.
‘At the moment I can see him working very hard in training sessions and games, he wanted to play from the beginning of the first game (in Japan), he wasn’t happy but that’s normal.
‘He’s an important player with quality and experience. If he plays well, scores goals and the team is winning it will be easier for everyone to be happy.’