As Douglas Luiz turned to a buoyant Holte End, he reached for his back pocket. Many fans expected him to pull out Lucas Paqueta; instead, he drew a fishing rod. Having lured and baited Alphonse Areola into blinking first from the penalty spot, the Brazilian paid homage to his passion back home. A fond fisherman, Luiz is helping to reel in the top six with his statesmanlike performances from midfield.
Home is where the heart is for Luiz. Two more goals against West Ham saw the 25-year-old score in six consecutive home games, a streak that extended from last season. Unai Emery has released the shackles, and with that, Villa Park has become a fortress once more. After Villa’s 4-1 win over West Ham, Emery’s side had scored ten goals in their last two home games, a feat made all the more remarkable by the calibre of the teams they’re playing.
Comprehensive victories over Brighton and West Ham extended their winning run at home to 11 games, and they would follow that up by thrashing AZ Alkmaar 4-1 in the Europa Conference League before beating Luton 3-1 at home and falling to a 2-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest. They’ll be looking to bounce back as they host AZ Alkmaar and Fulham, before returning from the November international break with a trip to Tottenham.
Despite the recent defeat to Forest, Villa are sitting pretty in fifth place, two points above Newcastle, two points behind Liverpool and Arsenal, four behind Tottenham, and five behind league leaders Manchester City. With 26 goals scored, only City (28) and Newcastle (27) have found the back of the net with greater regularity than the Villans. And yet, Emery has warned of complacency.
The Spaniard said of Luiz that whilst he was ‘very happy with him,’ there were times at which he felt the midfielder ‘was too relaxed.’ Ultimately, an education on the streets of Rio de Janeiro will do that to a player. But his humble beginnings, Luiz was born and raised in the favelas, means there’s little he takes for granted.
Luiz has never been one to be typecast. Financial restrictions didn’t hold back his progression in Brazil, work permit problems didn’t stop him from making the move to Manchester City, and his use as a pivot didn’t stop him from pushing on and realising his potential as an attacking threat under Emery. He could’ve settled for his piece in life, but comfort is the enemy of progress.
In one of the most tactically regimented sides in Europe, Luiz is relishing the freedom he has been afforded. Penalties, free kicks, corners, he does it all, but always with an air of modest authority. He’s that one player everyone wanted to be in school. Forget Roy of the Rovers, Luiz is the Roy of Rio.
A product of Vasco da Gama’s academy, Luiz hasn’t appeared for his country since 2021. But with Fabinho’s move to Saudi Arabia and Casemiro struggling for form and fitness, it feels like only a matter of time before Brazil come calling again.
Games against Luton, Nottingham Forest, and Fulham, as well as a European double-header against AZ Alkmaar, give Villa the perfect opportunity to prove their credentials before a showdown with high-flying Tottenham at the end of November. But in order to control the narrative, they need to control the ball, and with that, Luiz needs to heed Emery’s warning. The hedonism of the Holte End can get inside anyone’s head, but now is not the time to relax.
Trust Luiz to take his manager’s criticism on board, though. Having reached 150 Premier League appearances in their recent win against Luton, this is not the same boy who arrived in the Midlands with bags of potential and a fishing rod.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Neville Williams – Aston Villa FC