“He is one of the highlights of the Premier League, a player who’s been monitored here for a long time,” said Brazil interim head coach Fernando Diniz this week after recalling Douglas Luiz to the national team.
It is his first call-up since October 2021, and a fitting reward for his evolution under Unai Emery. Douglas Luiz is the only Villa player who has started every Premier League game since Emery was appointed a year ago. He reached his 150th Premier League appearance last week, in the 3-1 win over Luton Town, which made him the first of any current Villa player to reach the landmark.
He marked the occasion with an assist for John McGinn’s opener, becoming the first Villa player and the second South American to assist or score in eight consecutive Premier League home games (seven goals, one assist), the first being Uruguay’s former Liverpool star Luiz Suarez.
Douglas Luiz’s increased goal contributions of late led to a Premier League player of the month nomination for October, but his remit in central midfield goes beyond that. He is critical to how Emery’s side function and, in some ways, is a throwback — an all-rounder who is not typecast as a defensive midfielder or No 8.
The 25-year-old has shouldered the burden of being Emery’s go-to man, often caught in the crossfire of his manager’s intensive, labour-exhaustive demands on the pitch. When Villa are not pursuing the state of total control Emery craves, he will share usually frank words with the man in the middle of the park. In the first half away at Chelsea in September, for example, Emery screamed at Douglas Luiz, gesturing furiously for greater composure and to retain the ball better.
Emery knew an upturn in Douglas Luiz’s performance would engender improvement across the team.
Just a few minutes later in that game at Stamford Bridge, Douglas Luiz received the ball in a tight pocket, under pressure from three different angles, but manipulated the ball away and accelerated from danger. Villa went on to win 1-0.
He will be in the Brazil squad for their November internationals against Colombia and world champions and biggest rivals Argentina. Even though Diniz’s time in interim charge is likely to be short, with current Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti expected to take over in the summer, those two World Cup qualifiers could give Douglas Luiz the chance to put himself in a better position for future selection.
“It (the Brazil call-up) is very important and I am very happy for him,” said Emery. “But I am also demanding with him. He is progressing and playing well. He is playing more consistently at home than away. I was speaking with him and told him he is very important to us and progressing a lot but said, ‘You can do more. I am going to try and push you to do more’.
“He can take more responsibility in our build-up. He is scoring a lot of goals but he can add more assists, as a midfielder, for our strikers. He can be more of a protagonist with the ball.
“For example, at Nottingham Forest, I was waiting for more from him with the ball when we were in possession. I wanted more and demanded more. Wolverhampton, Alkmaar and Nottingham are three examples of where he could do more. Every day in our meetings, I am demanding with everyone. It is very good news he is in the national squad, but we can get more from him.”
Off the matchday pitch and inside Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training centre, Emery has worked alongside individual development coach Rodri and spent extended time with Douglas Luiz in video analysis rooms, explaining meticulously the wide-ranging tasks of a midfielder in Villa’s system.
Emery wants his central midfielders to vary their positioning. Lately, Douglas Luiz’s midfield partner Boubacar Kamara has dropped into the right centre-back position to form a back three, meaning the South American has more space to cover centrally as the team progress upfield and he guards against transitions.
“Against Nottingham Forest, we started the two halves very poorly,” said Emery, speaking generally but having initially used Douglas Luiz as a case in point. “They surprised us. Not because we didn’t know it, but because we didn’t react quickly. Circumstances happen on the pitch and then we were playing, more or less, well and in the idea that we were trying to get our performances, but it was not enough because we started very poor.”
Emery makes demands of players throughout the squad, but for Douglas Luiz specifically, the responsibility he carries is more discernible. He is Villa’s chief set-piece taker, their joint top scorer alongside Ollie Watkins, and is in the club’s leadership group — captain McGinn recently describing the Brazilian as “world class”.
Europe’s top clubs are monitoring Douglas Luiz and, having signed a new deal until 2026 last October, he is one of Villa’s most valuable assets.
To Emery, however, he is the squad’s transformative figure, indispensable, and ready to show his talent on the international stage.
Douglas Luiz, from one foot out the door to Aston Villa’s heartbeat
(Top photo: Ian MacNicol via Getty Images)