Douglas Luiz and Marvelous Nakamba have been paired against ‘elite’ sides this season – and have room to grow together, despite sharing similar positions.

Words: Mark Jirobe | @VillaMarkPGH


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There have been more than the fair share of talking points from Aston Villa’s previous fixture against Liverpool – but one that has not been discussed much is the decision to field two ‘holding’ style midfielders, in Marvelous Nakamba and Douglas Luiz against teams in the ‘upper-echelons’ of the Premier League.

Nakamba seems to be really fitting in at Aston Villa and his recent performances have definitely solidified that. He has appeared seven times this season, and each of these games have been consecutive appearances.

In his seven appearances, Nakamba has amassed over 650 minutes of football and made 48 interceptions, 16 clearances and blocked six shots – showcasing some kind of a defensive masterclass from the Zimbabwean despite results. He has also registered an 86.6% passing accuracy, with three of the games allowing the midfielder to manage a success rate of over 90%.

Douglas Luiz has been a bit of a different story for Aston Villa. He has played in two more games but has amassed fewer minutes collectively than Nakamba. Few will forget his two goals against Bournemouth and Norwich – pristine curling goals from just outside of the box.

Defensively, Luiz has managed 34 interceptions, 10 clearances and one blocked shot, but managed a similar passing accuracy to Nakamba, sitting at 85.7% over his 503 minutes of football.

But how do these two midfielders operate when they are on the pitch together?

Douglas Luiz AVG Heat Map
Marvelous Nakamba AVG Heat Map

When paired together, Nakamba sits just a bit behind the other two midfielders in more of a central defensive midfield role, whilst Luiz plays just in front and to the left of Nakamba. Such an occurrence has only happened in this past week against Manchester City and Liverpool, but these two players seem to play to each other’s strengths.

Luiz is more of a menacing midfielder, liking to get forward when space presents itself, whilst Nakamba is about as close to a ‘regista’ as Aston Villa have seen in recent times. A regista is an Italian word that translates to “director”, and there have been many talented players in history that have been referred to in this role.

A regista sits right behind the midfield, dictating the tempo of the game for his more offensively minded team-mates. Douglas also thrives in this role, but Marvelous’ defensive qualities outshine the Brazilian’s in this role to date. Nakamba has proven to have a taste to sweep laterally between his midfield teammates ahead of him to recapture the ball as quickly as possible and distribute it where he sees fit. His unusually high pass success rate, as aforementioned, is showing that Nakamba is thriving.

Douglas Luiz should benefit from this sort of player due to his skill set he has going forward. While Luiz didn’t have his best game in an Aston Villa shirt against Liverpool, the Brazilian did show glimpses of getting familiar to playing with a player like Nakamba. Aston Villa as a team are still getting to know each other and they are truly getting better all the time. Luiz and Nakamba should be no different in this regard if they are played along with the menacing John McGinn for extended periods of time.

It will be a big test for Luiz to adapt to Nakamba than the other way around. Luiz is generally used to playing the role that Nakamba is playing at present for Aston Villa, but Dean Smith definitely seems to favour the Zimbabwean over the Brazilian in that aspect.

In any case, this is definitely an interesting partnership to look at as the Premier League season rolls on.

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