Time is running out and it’s clear that Liverpool are still in need of reinforcements.
In an ideal situation they’d be bringing in both a defender and a midfielder, but it appears the club are leaning towards prioritising strengthening in the middle of the park. There have been so many names linked in the last few weeks and months that it’s hard to keep track, and so many sources out there that it’s hard to know who to believe.
Who is Douglas Luiz?
Douglas Luiz Soares de Paulo (to give him his full name) was born in Brazil’s biggest city – Rio de Janeiro and began his career at local club Vasco de Gama, one of the country’s most famous clubs. After one season in Serie B resulting in promotion and making a name for himself in Serie A – Brazil’s top division – he was picked up by Manchester City’s extensive scouting network. Work permit issues meant Luiz never made an appearance for the club, instead acclimatising to European football at fellow City Group club Girona in La Liga for two seasons.
His performances at the Catalonian club caught the eye of Aston Villa, who paid Manchester City just under £15m to bring his services to Birmingham. This was back in 2019, and since then he’s gone from strength to strength, earning call-ups to the Brazil squad and finishing last season with both the Supporters’ and Players’ Player of the Year awards at Villa Park as they secured European football for 2023/24.
With constant links to elite clubs, I’ve looked at what Luiz could add to Liverpool’s midfield.
Positioning and Profile
Somewhere along the way, the number six became synonymous with defensive midfielders. Despite the Brazilian sporting six on his shirt for Villa, Douglas Luiz is not really a defensive midfielder. While his Transfermarkt profile states that he’s played more in the defensive midfield position than any other (111 times vs. 103 in ‘central midfield’), he’s much more of an end-to-end ‘eight’ who is good at the defensive side of things (and the attacking ones).
He suits the mould of player that Liverpool apparently wants, a multi-functional midfielder who can cover several roles in central areas. He has played at the base of a midfield three – most frequently in Steven Gerrard’s 4-3-3, but this wasn’t necessarily him as an anchor, he was sandwiched between two other end-to-end high work-rate midfielders in Jacob Ramsey and John McGinn. His best football – under Unai Emery’s stewardship – has come on the left-hand side of a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 (and other variations of a midfield four with two central midfielders).
Much like I mentioned when discussing Wataru Endo, Luiz is another midfielder who has thrived with a more defensively disciplined player alongside them, and in the Brazilian’s case this is also Anfield-linked Boubacar Kamara.
Kamara is a more traditional defensive midfielder, who puts up high tackling numbers. This allows him the freedom to be more expressive and liberal with where he is on the pitch. Here’s Luiz’s heatmap for last season (via SofaScore).
As we can see, Luiz is a player that can cover a lot of space. His stamina is one of his best assets, alongside the fact he is extremely durable. He has played over 2,500 league minutes for four consecutive seasons and has missed just 11 games across his career due to injury – and the last one of those was in May 2019. He is physically robust, able to use his strength to his advantage.
Strengths and Weaknesses
All data in this piece is from Opta via FBRef, percentiles are comparisons against positional peers in Europe’s top five leagues, Champions League and Europa League.
Douglas Luiz is the sort of midfielder that does everything to a high standard, without having any heightened standout qualities (bar maybe his set-pieces, but we’ll get on to them). Let’s start with his passing game. Luiz isn’t a high-volume passer by any means, averaging 55.35 attempts per 90 (putting him in the 66th percentile), nor is he the most secure passer of the ball, completing 82.5% of those pass attempts (ranking him in the 51st percentile). The caveat here is that Luiz is a risk taker with his passing, and that comes with the acceptance that you will lose the ball sometimes.
Luiz’s creativity comes from both in-play and his superior set-piece ability. The Brazilian’s crossing ability is something that stands out. He averages 3.16 crosses per 90, with the majority of those coming from corners/set pieces (2.84 corner kicks per 90). He favours powerful in-swinging crosses that look towards Villa’s aerial weapons (noticeably Ollie Watkins and Tyrone Mings). These inflate his impressive expected assists numbers (0.14 per 90, putting him in the 76th percentile) but that does not mean he isn’t dangerous from open play too – and Liverpool know this better than most.
Liverpool conceded twice to Aston Villa last season, and both goals were a result of Douglas Luiz crossing the ball from deep areas. The first came at Villa Park in December:
Luiz picks up the ball in the right half-space and plays an inch-perfect ball on to Watkins head, who cuts Liverpool’s lead in half. He then repeats a similar act in the game famous for being Firmino’s Anfield farewell, playing an almost replica ball on to Jacob Ramsey’s head:
When it comes to ball carrying, Luiz is industrious, but he does have some of the Brazilian flair you’d expect from a player who grew up in Rio. He can pull off some ridiculous touches and loves to flick the ball over the head of oncoming defenders leaving them dead. He doesn’t tend to take his man on often (1.29 per 90) but when he does, he often beats them, with a successful take on rate of 59.1%.
Defensively he just does everything to a decent standard. He ranks in the 57th percentile for tackles won (1.26 per ninety), 40th percentile for blocks (1.14 per ninety), 63rd percentile for interceptions (1.17 per ninety), as well as winning 54.2% of his aerial duels (68th percentile). He reads the game quite well and his tactical understanding of where to be defensively is strong.
In the most cliché of terms – he is very coachable. There is no surprise that he thrived under Emery’s leadership and disciplined setup. Luiz understands where he needs to be to help the team, when to push up and when to be positionally disciplined.
Suitability for Liverpool
While, in my own opinion, I think that the club should be focusing any midfield recruitment efforts on a more specialised defensive midfielder – one capable of anchoring a midfield three and allowing Alexander-Arnold the ability to wander into forward areas – it doesn’t appear the club think that way.
It seems the club are set on a two-way midfielder, one who can potentially play in that two-man pivot but who can also push into higher areas. In that sense Luiz is probably one of the better options out there (if he is) on the market. The ‘Premier League proven’ tag is an overrated terminology and factor, but Liverpool are desperate and bringing in someone you can have some level of confidence in making an impact right away is as good as it can probably get.
His fitness levels and reliability/lack of injury history also makes him an extremely attractive option for a side who have suffered so much from a lack of availability in that area of the pitch for some time. Klopp would have ease of mind that he could depend on Luiz to be ready to go at any time.
The club are not in an ideal situation, and we’re in the territory now where the signing probably won’t be the top guy in that position but one you can depend on to have a positive impact for six to twelve months and then reassess the market.
In that sense, Luiz is perfect. He is someone that is going to put in extremely solid performances week in week out, he will add physicality and discipline to Liverpool’s midfield and is good enough on the ball to improve the starting lineup straight away.
His frequently-mentioned-throughout-this-piece injury history (because we’ve suffered so much from them recently) is something that the club needs. A Douglas Luiz, Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister probably lacks an extremely dominant defensive presence but they are three effective two-way players and would represent a significant improvement on last season’s midfield three.