Interview

David Luiz on Benfica and Barcelona Champions League wins, PSG meetings and key to European knockout success

Yesterday we heard from David Luiz on a couple of his most memorable experiences in European football, including the comeback victory over Napoli that ignited our triumphant Champions League campaign.

Today the Brazilian recalls the next two ties on our path to glory, against Benfica and Barcelona, some other eye-catching knockout games he has been involved in, and what is required of Chelsea’s class of 2019 if we are to emerge victorious in the Europa League, which continues next month…


Matters did not get any easier for David Luiz after the epic rollercoaster that was our 5-4 aggregate victory over Napoli that he remembers touching hearts and springing belief. The draw for the quarter-finals paired us with Benfica, the team he had left to join Chelsea the year before, and which had played such a crucial part in his formative years in Europe. The first leg was in the Portuguese capital.

‘It was such a tough game for me emotionally,’ David Luiz says. ‘My life changed from zero to 10 in Lisbon. I was living a dream to be on the bench there! I came to Europe from the third division in Brazil. It was a totally different situation to play for one of the best clubs in the world.

‘I went there with my heart broken because I knew somebody would be sad at the end of this tie. But I remember I was working a lot on my mind, to not let this bring me down and not be in the game. That’s why I was man of the match, because I worked before. I saved one goal on the line also, from Oscar Cardozo. The fans always joke with me and say, ‘Why didn’t you let Cardozo score!’

‘It was a special night. We won and after the game I was in the middle of the pitch and everybody was clapping me and saying thank you for what I did in the past. It was a great moment in my career, but also difficult to play against them.’

A disciplined performance earned a 1-0 win in Lisbon, and a week later we got the job done with a 2-1 victory on home soil.

Familiar foes awaited in the semi-final, but an injury at the same stage of the FA Cup meant David Luiz was unavailable for both legs against Barcelona.

‘I was so frustrated. I wanted to play these big games against one of the best teams ever. I was trying to do everything to be with my team-mates and support them.

‘In the second leg [in Camp Nou], I was upstairs in the middle of their fans.

'I remember when Messi had the penalty to score the third goal. I turned and said to them: ‘It’s not going to be a goal, it’s not going to be a goal’. It wasn’t a goal, and they started throwing some beers at me!

photo of David Luiz David Luiz

‘When I saw that I thought we were going to qualify. They had more than 50 opportunities to create goals, and then nothing was coming, nothing was coming.

‘I think that game also had help from the Napoli game. The mentality. "Let’s still think everything is possible". It was not a team that gave up. It was a team that said: "Let’s fight. It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be crazy, they are going to shoot on goal 20 times, but Petr Cech will save it."

‘The cherry on top of the cake was when Torres scored. I was upstairs, it was 2-1, we were qualifying. Three minutes before the end, I went down in the lift. In the lift I heard a big cheer, and thought they had scored. In the lift one scream made a big noise. "Oh no!"

‘But when I opened the lift, I saw one of the physios shouting. "Torres has scored!" Oh my god, it was a great night. I was running across the pitch even though I was injured!’

David Luiz recovered in time from injury to play the full two hours of the final against Bayern Munich, and even score a penalty in the successful shoot-out. The positive momentum sparked by victory over Napoli ended up carrying the Blues all the way to glory.

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Life was not so smooth in the Champions League the following season, and we found ourselves competing in the Europa League by the knockout stages of UEFA competition. After progressing past Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucharest and Rubin Kazan, we met Basel in the semi-finals.

David Luiz, by now regularly operating in midfield, scored in both legs. In Switzerland his last-minute free-kick gave us a 2-1 lead to take back to the Bridge, where he struck ‘one of the most beautiful goals I have ever scored in my life’.

‘That semi-final was my moment,’ he recalls.

After that came the intense emotional pressure that yet another meeting with Benfica conjured up for David Luiz, this time with the added weight of it being the final.

‘I said to Iva in training the day before the game that if he wanted to score, he had to go to the second post because that was where the space was when Benfica defended a corner.’ David Luiz smiles when he thinks of the advice he gave to Branislav Ivanovic. ‘It went exactly like that.

‘When the game finished I could not celebrate in the first 10 or 20 minutes. One part of my heart was broken because I knew how hard all my friends wanted this, and they were sad. Before celebrating anything I tried to go to every player, every friend, and especially the coach Jorge Jesus, someone who changed my life, and give them a hug before getting the trophy and being happy.

‘I am happy with these kind of moments because they are true moments. I can say the truth. I don’t need to be political. Those were my feelings. Everybody has these kind of feelings. You can have mixed emotions in your heart. But I’m a professional, I’m going to be professional until the end of my career. I am going to have my character, but I am going to be honest with my feelings.’

Since that night in Amsterdam, David Luiz’s experiences in European knockout matches have been dominated by Chelsea versus Paris Saint-Germain ties. The first, in April 2014, was before his move to the French capital.

‘That was another big comeback. The first leg was not a good leg for us, or a good leg for me. I scored an own-goal. We lost 3-1.

‘But the second leg was one of the best games of my life. I ran a lot in the middle alone. Jose Mourinho did a great plan for us. He showed us exactly how we would play in the first half, he showed us how we would play in the first 15 minutes of the second half, and he showed us how we would play in the last 20 minutes. "You David are going to play in a two, and then if we have to score you are going to be on your own and run for everybody". We did it. It was great.

Twelve months later, the tables were turned. He was wearing the colours of PSG as they knocked us out at the Bridge on away goals, one of which had been scored by David Luiz.

‘The second leg was so emotional because of everything that happened in the game. We lost one of the best players in our team in the first half [Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off]. We conceded a goal.

‘That game was emotional because of the things that happened in the game. That’s why when I scored in the last four minutes, it was difficult for me to keep my emotion because the game was totally emotional. When you are emotional, and you have the same oxygen in your brain, you don’t have the same lucidity.

‘I never in my life celebrated against Chelsea. I celebrated the moment in my career, the moment of that game, because everybody said it was impossible for Paris to win. It was like when Ashley Cole celebrated when we were losing 3-1 against Napoli. His energy was on a different level to everybody.’

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The breadth of David Luiz’s experiences in European knockout football is extraordinary. But there is still room for more, and after spending so much time looking back, we finish by asking him about the future. Our Europa League journey will resume when we meet Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals next month. A last-four meeting with Benfica - them, again – remains a possibility. What is the most important thing we must do if we are to repeat our European successes of 2012 and 2013? 

‘To understand we have to be ready for every single moment,’ responds David Luiz with the authority of a man who knows what he is talking about. 

‘Bad moments can arrive, emotional moments can arrive, hard moments can arrive, and we have to be ready for that. To win a tournament is not just flowers.

‘I have learned a lot in my career, and football is nice because there is always something new, and you also have to be ready for that!’

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