Any good transfer strategy would see a team look first to fill the gaps within the team - and not just certain positions, but roles. Does a team lack a ball carrier, a finisher, a rotational centre-back? Assessing need is a good thing - and there’s a solid need for a defensive midfielder at Aston Villa. Enter Douglas Luiz.
The gap that Douglas Luiz - more often known by just the first-name - fills at Aston Villa is the same one filled by a refreshing sip on a fire-filled day. An enjoyable fulfilment. Much-needed. At defensive midfield, Douglas has been needed at Villa for much longer than the few weeks since Glenn Whelan and Mile Jedinak departed. A player of his type has been missing ever since Idrissa Gueye left for Everton. The dehydration of that particular position is now over.
So, who is Douglas? Douglas, despite playing at the highest level of Spanish football, will be a relative unknown to many Aston Villa fans. In fact, many will accept his qualities based on a thumbnail of a highlight clip. If Pep Guardiola loves him, and he comes from Manchester City - he must be good, right? Correct.
However, face-value analysis of Douglas doesn’t do him justice whatsoever/ After watching plenty of game footage and trying to assess him without any bias. He’s a player worth watching, so put down your phone and quit tweeting - put your eyes on the baller himself.
Douglas plays in defensive midfield - but has the same offensive qualities we appreciate in players like John McGinn, Conor Hourihane and Jack Grealish in that he carry the ball forward and rip open teams with movement. He’s a technical player, with top-tier ball skills, a ball-player, but with a real sign of controlled damaging aggression that Villa are lacking. If that position would be deemed an ‘8’ then Douglas would fit in at Villa as a ‘6’ - the ‘Makelele role.’
It would stand to reason that Douglas is adept on the ball - but it’d be idiocy to ignore his off-the-ball attributes. A match report of an U20 Brazil match this summer highlights Douglas as a player who simply attacked ball-carriers for fun - as though he was breaking the lines and scoring - Douglas took joy in robbing creative players of the ball and crushing in their spirits. In fact, the report - and I can now back this up - mentions that Douglas hunted down wingers on a whim to great success. It was a delight to watch a player enjoy off-the-ball activity as much as on-the-ball success.
Anderson Moura, for OutsideOfTheBoot, described Luiz as somewhat of a box-to-box midfielder - but highlighted his defensive attributes. For Villa, he’d fit in as a defensive midfielder. Douglas will go straight in for Conor Hourihane, allowing Hourihane to take up a more natural attacking/support role in rotation with John McGinn or Jack Grealish. Hourihane, along with the departed Glenn Whelan, fulfilled a role as a defensive midfielder - and also that of a situational centre-back. A player who would drop in between two centre-backs to spread them out and offer an option. Douglas would be a more natural and thus suited fit for that game role. Lining up, that would be the third player at the base of a midfield three.
In play, Douglas will be robbing the ball and recycling possession - he’ll be driving forward to break lines and being an active presence at the back to receive the ball. Ideally he’ll be the man behind a killer pass into the box - with a typical unselfish manner. The easy comparison to make is that Douglas resembles Kalvin Phillips of Leeds - another Aston Villa target. The ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ was a menace off-the-ball and the deliverer of more than a few great passes at Leeds. Douglas is very much the same, in that manner of speaking.
The big concern for Douglas is that he didn’t play a great deal of football for Girona after being forced out on loan from City due to work permit issues. His last season saw him miss over two months due to injuries, but he’s only managed 38 games for Girona in two seasons. He’s coming to Villa with a recommendation - and that’s good - but you’d like to see a bit more league action here. Despite that, Douglas is still only 21. This is just the start - and it’s a decent enough start. What’s more, there’s often a lack of concentration that halts his intelligence. Douglas is smart, but will lose his cool in the hunt - and he will drift when marking.
The Premier League would be a test for any young player, but especially so for a technical ball-winner. Douglas Luiz will be trusted with almost every single move Aston Villa are involved with. It’ll be a big step up - but Luiz has a big list of admirers, and you don’t move far in life without testing your abilities. It’s time for Douglas to do just that.