Between them, Enzo Fernández, Declan Rice and Moisés Caicedo make up three of the top five most expensive midfielders of all time. All of them moved for eye-watering sums of money in 2023.

Is Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz the next on that list? If he continues his form from the start of the season, he’ll certainly not be short of suitors.

Luiz has been one of Unai Emery’s key performers this season, playing a pivotal role in Villa’s brilliant start that sees them sitting just four points off the top of the Premier League table.

Deployed at the base of midfield, usually in a double pivot next to Boubacar Kamara, Luiz has started every league game for Villa this season and played 93.7% of his potential minutes. Durability is perhaps one of the most overlooked traits in a footballer and Luiz’s physical robustness is just one of the many things that make him such a valuable asset. Since his arrival in 2019, Luiz has made more appearances (149) for Villa than any other player and, per Transfermarkt, he’s not missed a single game through injury. Sometimes the best ability is availability.

But he brings so much more than that to Aston Villa’s midfield. Together with Kamara, the duo are Villa’s primary ball winners in the centre of the park. Only Kamara (16) has won more tackles than Luiz’s 14 this season, and the pair each have a tackle success rate of 66.7% – tied for the best in the side. Similarly, Luiz has won back possession for his side more often (7.3 times per 90) than any other teammate.

Douglas Luiz possession won

That includes a quite frankly ludicrous performance against Crystal Palace, where Luiz won the ball back on 16 separate occasions for Villa, the highest mark any player has hit in that category so far this season in the entire top flight.

But Luiz adds culture to his steel. Once he’s won the ball back, he has the technical ability on the ball to launch attacks for his side. The Brazilian has won back the ball and then instigated an attack leading to a shot on eight separate occasions, a tally no other Villa player can beat, while only Ollie Watkins, who is naturally going to be involved in a ton of Villa’s attacking output, has been involved in more overall open-play attacking sequences ending in a shot.

Yes, most of Luiz’s involvement in these sequences comes from being involved in the build-up, but there are also a healthy number of shots that either he’s taken or created directly.  

Aston Villa open play attacking sequence involvements

After Aston Villa win the ball back, they like to attack quickly and centrally. Emery’s side have registered 29 direct attacks this campaign – defined as the number of open-play sequences that start just inside a team’s own half, have at least 50% of movement towards the opposition’s goal and end in a shot or a touch in the opposition box.

Luiz has the passing ability to help kick-start these quick attacks. He’s able to progress the ball quickly through the lines to more advanced teammates, averaging 4.5 progressive passes per 90 minutes, the most of any Aston Villa player, and the eighth highest average of all midfielders in the league.

In more settled possession, Luiz will often receive from his centre-backs, before turning and breaking the opposition’s midfield line to find Villa’s more advanced midfielders who tend to drift inside.

Douglas Luiz progressing passing example 1
Douglas Luiz progressing passing example 2

Perhaps the biggest improvement in Luiz’s game this season has been his goalscoring threat. His brace against West Ham last weekend took him to five Premier League goals, joint-top with Watkins, and just one behind his tally from last season. Three of those have been penalties, sure, but therein lies another one of Luiz’s strengths: his ability from dead-ball situations. He is Villa’s primary penalty, corner and free-kick taker and has a 100% success rate from his penalties across his Villa career so far.

His touch map from open play is far more rangey than you might think from a player who is so defensively strong, and he’s clearly got licence to get forward and join attacks. His per-90 averages for shots (2.2) and touches in the opposition box (2.0) in 2023-24 are by far the highest of his Aston Villa career to date.

Douglas Luiz open-play touch map Premier League

With the Brazilian averaging 74.9 touches per 90 minutes, the most in the Villa squad of players to start at least half their games, Luiz is clearly comfortable on the ball and his ability in possession could well translate to a club who enjoy even more of it than Unai Emery’s outfit. He’s also adept at receiving the ball and playing under pressure, completing 85% of his passes this season when surrounded by defenders in close proximity. That figure sees him rank in the top 10 for all Premier League midfielders.

Although his performances in the first few months of the season have definitely elevated his profile within the game, it’s not just this year that Luiz has impressed. In 2022-23, he was voted both Supporter’s Player of the Season and Player’s Player of the Season at Aston Villa’s end-of-season awards.

Arsenal were reportedly interested in acquiring Luiz ahead of the 2022-23 campaign. They appeared to have found their solution in Declan Rice, but it doesn’t sound like their admiration for Luiz has waned at all. Don’t be surprised if they – and several other top clubs – come sniffing around the Brazilian in January.

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