Nutmegged twice against the rampant Luis Suarez, Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian defender David Luiz was the fall man for his club’s 1-3 defeat to Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal. Coming on for the injured Thiago Silva early in the first half, David Luiz’s performance earned enough criticism to warrant his mother coming out to defend him on Instagram.
Does David Luiz deserve to take all the blame? Perhaps, if football was a series of one-on-one contests in a Nike commercial and not a complex team sport involving 22 people trying to move a ball around without the use of their hands.
Not that David Luiz was unfairly maligned of course, but that his countrymen, including Marquinhos and Maxwell, deserve their share in responsibility for both goals. To see why, let’s examine each in turn.
Here is the pitch seconds before Barcelona’s second goal. Martin Montoya has just played Luis Suarez through on the right flank. With the PSG fullback Maxwell a little further up the pitch, it’s essentially up to David Luiz to fill in that role. Normally defending full backs will want to give wingers a little space on the flank so as not to get beaten. However the centre-half momentarily forgets himself (and who he is challenging) and moves in too closely to Suarez too quickly. That is a more substantial error than simply being nutmegged.
Now here is the play immediately after Suarez ‘megs David Luiz. No. 5 Marquinhos has moved in yet fails to slide or do much of anything to prevent Suarez’ advance and help save his teammate’s blushes. Suarez puts him out of the picture with only a slight feint inside.
Finally, the fullback Maxwell is forced to run in to make a last gasp tackle like a centrehalf and also misses, though at least comes as close as anyone in trying to stop the Uruguayan. Total (failure) football! It may be tempting to rail on Gregory van der Wiel for not rushing into but he needs to ensure the centre is covered. Suarez scores, 0-2.
And now the second goal…
This is the moment immediately after Jordi Alba sends a decisive long pass directly to the feet of Luis Suarez facing away from goal. What Suarez knows, and what catches PSG off guard, is that he will make a quick, one-time dinked pass to Javier Mascherano before moving forward. This wouldn’t be necessarily so devastating if Lucas? and Blaise Matuidi weren’t mashed together behind Suarez near the centre circle—in fact, there is a very large gap between PSG’s lollygagging midfield and defense here which Barca easily exploits. They’re strolling around unaware that David Luiz is already the last man in a one-on-one situation.
Marquinhos fails here to properly challenge Masch or intercept the pass. This is already a terrible position for PSG to be in—now Suarez is through with only David Luiz to beat. He arguably could have broken through on goal without even moving past the centrehalf, though the angle wouldn’t have been as good.
And nutmeg number two. David Luiz was again wrong to move in too close to Suarez, but if he somehow manages to stop him, he’s the hero.
So was David Luiz poor? Yes. Was the overall defending from PSG poor? Yes. Nutmegs make highlight reels, but even world class defenders will be beaten in one-on-one situations with Suarez. Football, as ever, is a team sport.