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If one was to select a Player of the Year so far in the Premier League outside of the traditionally recognised top six, Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz would likely be one of the first names to spring to mind.

Brazilian Luiz has been the cornerstone of a Villa side who have enjoyed a terrific campaign under the auspices of Unai Emery, with the fourth-placed Villans striving to reach the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.

25-year-old Luiz has started all but one of Villa’s 26 league matches to date, missing his side’s 2-1 triumph at Brentford in December due to suspension, and has taken his game to a new level to emerge as one of the division’s most well-rounded players.

Previously recognised as a deep-lying playmaker whose game revolved around dictating the tempo of matches and shielding the defence behind him, Luiz has evolved into a complete midfielder this term with his impressive brace against Nottingham Forest taking his Premier League goals total to nine for the campaign - higher than his combined tally over the past three seasons.

We take a closer look at Douglas Luiz’s progression at Aston Villa this season in the latest edition of In Focus…

Aston Villa

One that got away

Born in Rio De Janeiro and rising through the ranks at local professional club Vasco de Gama, Luiz made the move to England with Manchester City aged 19 in 2017.

After complications with his UK work permit, the Brazilian youth international spent two seasons at City’s sister club Girona in La Liga, making a total of 46 appearances for this year’s surprise package in Spain’s top flight.

City boss Pep Guardiola has revealed he wished for Luiz to be part of his squad for the 2018/19 campaign, but red tape surrounding his work permit forced the Brazilian to spend another year on loan at Girona.

Guardiola told the press in 2019: "He [Luiz] would be here if the work permit had been possible.

"He played in the pre-season last season in the United States, and he was really good. I think he has the quality to play with us but he could not do that."

Luiz would eventually be granted a work permit to play in England in the summer of 2019, but his first taste of English football would arrive at newly-promoted Aston Villa as opposed to Man City after completing a £15m move to the West Midlands.

The Citizens initially retained a buy-back clause for the South American, but this expired two years later in 2021.

Now in his fifth season at Villa, Douglas Luiz is in line to make his 150th Premier League start for the Villans against Luton this weekend, becoming only the 15th player to reach this milestone for the club.

Luiz's total of 165 Premier League appearances for Villa is the highest within Unai Emery’s current squad, with the 2020 Olympics Gold medallist seeming to improve with every passing season in England.

The midfielder's performances for Villa last season, a campaign in which the club earned European qualification for the first time in 13 years, saw Luiz scoop the club’s Supporter’s Player of the Season and Player’s Player of the Season awards.

Previously strongly linked with a move to Arsenal in the summer of 2022 before putting pen to paper on a new long-term contract at Villa a few months later, speculation is beginning to ramp up again regarding Luiz’s future with the likes of the Gunners, former club City and Liverpool reported to be keen on his services.

Five years on since swapping the Etihad for Villa Park, we are now seeing a player who seems readymade for a Guardiola team.

The complete midfielder

After spending the majority of his early career as a conventional defensive midfielder, scoring just three goals in his first three seasons at Villa, Luiz has grown into the complete midfield player under the tutelage of Emery.

This season has seen Luiz develop into a goalscoring midfielder, with a brace in a 4-1 home win over West Ham back in October seeing the Brazilian become the first player since Dwight Yorke to net in six consecutive Premier League matches at Villa Park.

The Vasco de Gama youth product has not looked back since then, with his tally of 10 Premier League goal involvements at home this term only bettered by Erling Haaland, Mohamed Salah and teammates Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey.

As a central midfielder, only Brighton’s Pascal Gross has more Premier League goal involvements (14) than Luiz’s total of 13, and only Inter’s Hakan Cahlanoglu has more goals (10) in Europe’s top five leagues than Luiz’s tally of nine.

Luiz’s set-piece taking duties are certainly a considerable contributing factor towards his increased output in attacking areas, with the Brazilian a trusted deliverer from corners and free-kicks and having netted four of his Premier League goals from the penalty spot this term.

Both of the Brazilian’s brace of goals against Nottingham Forest in Villa’s 4-2 win last weekend came in open play, however, with Luiz displaying his ability to make cleverly timed runs into the box and finish with aplomb when presented with opportunities to score.

This evolution in Luiz’s game is not something which has developed by chance, but rather the product of Villa boss Emery’s desire to increase the influence of one of his most talented players.

Luiz told the press back in December: "He [Emery] is a manager who is helping me a lot and who asks a lot from me. He wants me to give more assists, to score goals, to arrive well in the box and to help the team defensively as well. "

The fluidity of Villa’s midfield can be identified as one of Emery’s side’s key strengths, with Boubacar Kamara prior to his ACL injury trusted to hold the fort as the number six and allow all-rounders Luiz and skipper John McGinn to roam all over the pitch to great effect.

Luiz’s mix of technical quality and dynamism makes him the perfect modern midfielder, with the Aston Villa man a pressing machine who is proving increasingly capable of contributing goals and assists in important moments.

As the heartbeat of this impressive Villa side, with his total of 1,810 touches the highest in the team in the Premier League this season, Luiz’s influence at the heart of midfield could be compared to that of Rodri at Man City and Declan Rice at Arsenal – two of the current frontrunners for the PFA Player of the Year award.

Who knows, perhaps Luiz will end up teammates with one of this distinguished pair come next season.

Aston Villa Premier League Stats 2023/24:

Most Key Passes:

  • Douglas Luiz - 40
  • Ollie Watkins - 37
  • John McGinn - 34
  • Moussa Diaby - 32
  • Leon Bailey - 32

Most Tackles Won:

  • Douglas Luiz - 30
  • Boubacar Kamara - 29
  • John McGinn - 26
  • Matty Cash - 21
  • Ezri Konsa - 20

Entering his prime

At 25, Luiz is a footballer with his peak years still ahead of him, a fact which will only add to his appeal in the transfer market.

With reports suggesting Aston Villa may be forced to sell one of their prized assets this summer in order to comply with the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules, an exit for the coveted Luiz could be on the cards at the end of this season.

Over the past three years, Villa’s record £100m sale of academy graduate Jack Grealish to Man City in 2021 has helped offset their transfer expenditure, but this sale no longer counts as part of the relevant financial regulations.

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal are long-term admirers of the Brazilian with central midfield an area in which the Gunners are currently relatively light in.

Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard are nailed-on picks in Arsenal’s engine room, but an upgrade is perhaps in order to accompany them with the future of Ghanaian Thomas Partey uncertain after an injury-hit campaign and Jorginho not getting any younger at 32

Reigning champions City may have something to say about any potential pursuit of Luiz from Arsenal, however, with suggestions Pep Guardiola’s side could make their former player a primary transfer target in the summer.

City’s struggles in the absence of midfield lynchpin Rodri have been well documented, with all three of the team’s three Premier League defeats this season coming in games in which the Spaniard has been suspended, so it would therefore be of little surprise if Guardiola prioritised extra cover in this area of the pitch at the end of the season.

A central midfielder of Luiz’s calibre and age will surely command a significant transfer fee, though, especially in light of Declan Rice’s £105m move to Arsenal last summer and Chelsea’s recent acquisitions of Enzo Fernandes and Moises Caicedo for a combined fee of £222m.

Villa supporters will ultimately be praying they are able to hang on to one of their key players, with the lure of Champions League football and the financial rewards this will bring the club perhaps enough to prevent Luiz’s sale.

If the midfielder is to depart Villa Park this summer, there would be no better way to bid farewell to the club he has represented for the past five years than lifting the Europa Conference League trophy in Athens in May, with the Villans currently the outright favourites to do just this.

Aston Villa Outright Odds 2023/24:

Premier League:

To Finish in Top 2 - 40/1
To Finish in Top 4 - 10/11
Not to Finish in Top 4 - 4/5

Europa Conference League:

To Win Outright - 5/2

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