Luiz: It’s important to us to win the Europa League
David Luiz ponders the quest for Europa League glory starting on Thursday in Greece. Photo: Paul Lagan
David Luiz is not thinking of the Europa League as a secondary title - it’s a trophy and he wants to win it.
Luiz’s Chelsea face PAOK Salonika in Greece tomorrow night as they pay the European price for failing to qualify for the Champions League last season - finishing fifth in the Premier League.
Luiz was a virtual outcast under Antonio Conte last term, but is the golden boy under Maurizio Sarri.
Nevertheless the Italian has rested Luiz and a number of regulars including Eden Hazard ahead of Sunday’s league encounter away to West Ham.
Brazilian Luiz said: “It doesn’t matter the name of the competition, we play for Chelsea, a big club. We will always be under pressure to win every single game, every single competition. We are going to fight for all the titles. We are starting a new competition on Thursday and we have to be ready. We have a full squad, everyone can play, everyone has the quality to play. It doesn’t matter who the 11 are on the pitch, Chelsea will always be at a great level to win games.
We are going to try to win every game and then let’s see what happens in the future.
“It is important for us to win this title, it is not about qualifying for the Champions League right now. For me, it’s about winning a trophy. People are already taking about how it is a tough competition in Europe. The Europa League is very important as well, there are a lot of great teams in it.
“Many, many people don’t understand how hard it is to win this competition. The level is great. It’s not going to be easy to play. It’s not going to be easy to play on a Thursday, It’s not going to be easy because of how far we have to travel but also because of the quality of the teams. I know because I have played in the Europa League more than once, I also played in it with Benfica.
“I like the competition, I like to play football. I want people to understand it’s not what everyone is saying about it, it’s what you feel on the pitch. It is never easy to win a competition like this.”
The centre-back refuses to concede that there are fringe players at SW6 who need a run out, and the Greek match is ideal for then. Instead he professes they are all as one.
He said: “It doesn’t matter the name of the player, we have an amazing squad. Everyone can play. Everyone is training the same way, everybody is doing everything they can on the pitch. Players are trying to adapt to the same level. It doesn’t matter who plays, they are going to respond well.”
Back in 2013 it was a tournament for misfiring Fernando Torres, Does Luiz feel that misfiring Alvaro Morata can have the same impact?
“It is a good competition for Alvaro to make an impact, like it will be for everybody,” said the 31-year-old.
“It is always good for strikers if they can score goals. Forwards live for goals, they live to score. Playing in the Europa League obviously means more games for us and therefore more opportunities for him and Giroud to score. I’m going to be happy for both Alvaro and Olivier if they find the back of the net. But against Cardiff, Giroud played an amazing game without scoring. Sometimes they are frustrated if they don’t score, but I told Olivier afterwards ‘keep calm, you played a great game’. It’s more about the quality than that.
“But it’s good for a striker to have this feeling when they’re not scoring – a striker has to think in this way.”
Are people starting to wonder wether Alvaro can turn his career around?
Luiz, as always, is protective of his team-mate.
“People always look at everybody,” he said.
“I don’t think there is a problem with Alvaro. He is a great player. I was happy that he came back to the squad with Spain. He didn’t have the opportunity to play against Cardiff, but he is a great player, a great person. He is working hard every day to try and help us.”
With five league wins in a row, the Blues are in great form ahead of their Greek encounter.
“I think we are doing a great job, not just because of the results but what we are doing every single day in training,” he said.
“We are trying to adapt to the philosophy as soon as possible to play our game.
Against Cardiff we kept our style, kept believing in what we have been working on even though we conceded the first goal. We are happy with this.”
Sarri said it would take a few months to adapt – are the Blues ahead of schedule?
“I don’t know if you can say we are ahead of schedule because he is the boss,” saids Luiz.
“We feel like we are working well every day to improve as fast as possible. Everybody knows he works on details, he works hard every day for us to understand what we have to do inside the pitch.
“He is the one to evaluate whether the team is doing well or not. He is doing what he wants to do. It’s not just about the results, it’s about this philosophy, creating a compact team, a great team with and without the ball. We are trying to learn every day but it’s obviously special to do that while still winning games.”
Luiz was in the side that won the Europa League with a dramatic late headed goal from Branislav Ivanović in a 2-1 win over Benfica in Amsterdam - does he have good memories of the night?
“It was a great memory for me,” he said. “We didn’t start well in Europe that season because we dropped out of the Champions League at the group stage. Under Rafael Benitez we understood that it was going to be important for us to win the competition.
“We started to grow during the competition. We saw how hard it was going to win – you do play against difficult teams. In the end it was a special moment because we won. It was a bit difficult for me because I won against [my former team] Benfica, but it was a great feeling because we’d won two European trophies in a row – the Champions League and Europa League.”
Luiz loves to win title, but he doesn’t keep hold of the medals.
“My Europa League medial from 2013 is in Brazil,” he said.
“Everything I have won is with my mum and dad. I remember my first boots my dad gave me when I became professional - he said ‘I knew you were going to become a professional footballer’ – he was with me every single day. So, everything I have won I have given to my mum and dad because they celebrate more than me.”