By Liam Twomey
David Luiz is a fantastic player but he needs to be more intelligent with his risk-taking if he is to fulfil his full potential, according to Chelsea legend Frank Leboeuf.
Luiz has exhilarated and exasperated in equal measure since his arrival in England in January 2011, proving just as capable of sensational goals as costly defensive gaffes.
The Brazilian has also shown himself to be a highly accomplished defender on numerous occasions - most notably with heroic performances against Benfica and Bayern Munich in Chelsea's miraculous Champions League-winning campaign of 2011-12 - but baffling mistakes, such as the one which allowed Jordan Mutch to give Cardiff a shock lead in Saturday's 4-1 win at Stamford Bridge, continue to dog him.
Jose Mourinho's men take on Schalke at the Veltins Arena on Tuesday evening mindful of the fact that, following a shock opening defeat at home to Basel, any further slip-ups could see them eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage for the second consecutive year. It is a situation some believe calls for the less flamboyant partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill.
Leboeuf, a cultured defender who became renowned for his long-range passing and set-piece prowess during his time in west London, recognises a kindred spirit in Luiz, though he admits the former Benfica man needs to work on his decision-making on the pitch.
|13/2||David Luiz is 13/2 with Paddy Power to score anytime against Schalke
"Maybe I was less crazy than he is, but he’s a fantastic player, he likes to go forward, and I can’t reject a player like that because that’s the philosophy I like.
"But at the same time, if you’re going to play him, you need to make sure people compensate, and one of the midfielders goes next to John Terry when he goes forward.
"It’s teamwork, and David Luiz has to be careful than someone can take his place when he does things. I like David Luiz – he brought so much to the club and he’s a talented player.
"He has to work on the defensive aspects of his football, but a little bit of craziness doesn’t kill anybody, and it brings a bit of flavour to football."
In his short and unpopular reign at Stamford Bridge, Rafa Benitez garnered praise for shifting Luiz further forward to occupy a holding midfield role. But while Leboeuf concedes the experiment was a sensible and successful one, he remains convinced Luiz's future lies at the heart of the Chelsea defence.
"It was a good idea to see him playing as a midfielder because he’s secure at the back with John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic or Gary Cahill behind him," the Frenchman adds.
"It’s an option, but as you get older I think he’s going to go forward less, like I did, and he’s going to calm down, and so maybe his position really is at the back.
"Because of his technique, it’s good to have a player who can be calm and give a good pass to start a good attack."
Whoever is charged with protecting Petr Cech may have to devote much of their Tuesday evening to shackling Julian Draxler, Schalke's No.10, boy wonder and, in recent times, reported Chelsea target.
Leboeuf is a big fan, but questions the wisdom of Roman Abramovich shelling out millions in pursuit of another prodigious creator with the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian and Kevin de Bruyne already at Mourinho's disposal.
"He’s an unbelievable player," the World Cup winner enthuses of Draxler. "I saw him play last year and he’s a real talent. But do I think Chelsea need a player like that? Not yet.
"They have the amount of players they need in that position. But in some ways it’s a tactical market out there now, where clubs think ‘I’m going to take the guy because I’m sure he’s not going to play against us’, so it’s tricky. I can understand that in case of injury, they might need to double or triple up in a position at Chelsea and still have the same amount of quality in the substitutions.
"If you can afford it, why not? But it would be a pity to see another fantastic player on the bench because there aren’t enough places for everybody."
While top of Group E, Schalke approach this crunch clash with their fair share of problems. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Jefferson Farfan and centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos are all missing, leaving an even greater burden to be shouldered by Draxler. On Saturday, Horst Heldt's depleted men limped to a 3-2 victory over Bundesliga bottom club Eintracht Braunschweig.
Having experienced the cauldron of noise generated by the Veltins Arena first-hand, however, Leboeuf warns Chelsea will face a tough task to avoid what would be a catastrophic defeat, regardless of the team the hosts put out to face them.
"The situation is not tragic yet, but Chelsea can’t afford to lose in Germany," he insists.
"They need at least a draw, and that won’t be easy because I went to Gelsenkirchen and it’s an unbelievable atmosphere. They can close the roof and it’s packed with 60,000 people.
"It’s going to be hard, but Chelsea can’t afford to lose another game if they want to go through.
"They put themselves under pressure by losing to Basel, but you’re allowed to make one mistake in the group stage. If you make another one you’re going to be in danger."
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