Douglas Luiz has endured an eventful week. An assist for Bertrand Traore against Manchester United, followed by conceding another soft penalty to Paul Pogba; he received unacceptable online abuse for his performance from Villa fans, days before reports suggested that Manchester City would be unlikely to activate their buyback clause.
A Brazilian international who marshaled Villa towards safety with his outstanding performances after football resumed last season, may appear to be a strange target for fans’ ire. Especially given the context that this is the first time, aside from the 2016/17 season, that Villa have approached the final weeks of a campaign without the hopes of promotion or specter of relegation since 2011.
May 13th’s draw against Everton saw Villa bank their most Premier League points in the post-O’Neill era, with three games left to play.
This has been a good season for Aston Villa Football Club. An unlikely European challenge waned in the face of a covid outbreak combined with being without Jack Grealish for 12 games, who was arguably in line for Player of the Season honors prior to his injury.
However, even without their captain, the side have averaged a point per game, which is an overall improvement on the 35 points that Villa accrued for the whole of last season.
Luiz’s performances, in comparison to his earlier heights, may have dipped. The 23-year-old appeared to thrive in a defined defensive role in the latter parts of 2019/20.
The arrival of Ross Barkley, the introduction of an attacking midfielder into Villa’s formation, then altered his positioning: either playing in a pivot with John McGinn or as a lone holding midfielder, as others pushed forwards.
Predominantly owing to Barkley’s own struggles with injury and confidence, Luiz has also started alongside Conor Hourihane, Jacob Ramsey, Marvellous Nakamba, and Morgan Sanson throughout the season.
The questions raised around Luiz’s best position and form are valid – but it’s also worth acknowledging that consistency and familiarity resulted in the flow-state displays he delighted Villa supporters with last summer.
Yet, the key word to describe Villa’s season remains, improvement. Villa’s coaching staff have proved time and again how effectively they can improve players within this current squad.
It is possible to cast minds back to a time where replacing Matt Targett was deemed a necessity, now he stands as one of Villa’s players of the season. Ezri Konsa has developed exponentially on his already-clear talent to be on the verge of the England setup. Anwar El Ghazi, another thought to be surplus to requirements, has scored nine league goals. Then, of course, there is Jack Grealish who has succeeded in putting himself among the elite players in world football with his performances.
The criticism may have just been a knee-jerk reaction to another in a long line of defeats against Manchester United, but it is worth remembering who Douglas Luiz is. He is the man that has kept Fabinho out of Brazil’s starting XI; who was long touted as the man to succeed Fernandinho at Manchester City; and alongside Jack Grealish, kept Aston Villa in the Premier League.
Villa supporters should embrace the fact that the club is set to hold on to a player who seemed to be destined for arguably the best side in the world.
Even with the loom of Manchester City removed, there are still some questions to be answered about Douglas Luiz as a top-level midfielder, but one of those is just how high his ceiling could be.
For a club that has centered itself around potential and improvement, Douglas Luiz deserves to be celebrated.