The dramatic rise of Aston Villa has been one of the stories of 2023.

Struggling under Steven Gerrard, to such an extent that the football betting had them tipped as relegation candidates, the appointment of Unai Emery in November of last year has transformed their fortunes completely.

Remarkably, since the weekend when the Spaniard first got to work in the Midlands, Villa have picked up the fourth most points in the top-flight, just two fewer than Liverpool.

Indeed, Emery boasts the best win rate of any Villa boss in Premier League history. 

It is a considerable and sustained improvement that is grounded in clever positional play and a high defensive line that greater encourages an aggressive press.

Moreover, though a change in system has benefited them enormously, so much of Villa’s steady climb up the table is down to individuals responding so well to it.

The re-emergence of Ollie Watkins as a prolific front-man has seen him return to the England fold while John McGinn is back to his scurrying best.

Lucas Digne has been one of a number of previously under-performing players who have proven to be a revelation of late.

And at the heart of everything, pushing the Villans up into the top four against all expectation, has been Douglas Luiz, forever in motion, running each and every show with an intelligence and energy that impresses.

There are few better players around at receiving the ball under pressure, laying it off, then making himself immediately available for a return pass. In this regard, he is Villa’s connector; a finely turned engine in their engine room. 

Yet, there is significantly more to the brilliant Brazilian’s game than simply executing the holding role to near perfection.

As the season edges into December, Luiz has already reached double figures for direct goal involvements as he strides forward to make the difference. 

In 2023, only two midfielders (James Maddison and Bruno Fernandes) have scored and assisted more Premier League goals. Both feature in the sports betting to be crowned player of the year. 

When the then-teenage Luiz joined Manchester City in 2017 not a lot was known about him, nor expected of him.

Bought for a mere £4m, his arrival that summer was over-shadowed by City spending a fortune on defenders while additionally luring Bernardo Silva across from Monaco. 

He was one for the future, that was the summation of the coverage that accompanied his move, with a loan anticipated to aid his development, a loan that swiftly materialised with a year-long stint in Girona. 

Thereafter came a prolonged work permit issue, a problem that necessitated an extra year in Spain and for a good while it seemed like this would be the over-riding narrative of his fledgling career.

When it was finally resolved however, it was Aston Villa who came calling, with City happy to make a £10m profit on him, and it should be stated that Luiz made an impact from the off.

As Villa flailed and stuttered, it was so often his performances that propped them all, kept them going.

Now though, now we are witnessing another level entirely and it does not surprise in the least that Arsenal are circling, reportedly preparing a huge January bid. 

Douglas Luiz is unquestionably one of the finest midfield talents in the Premier League. It took us a while but we have all come to realise this eventually.

*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*

Stephen Tudor is a freelance football writer and sports enthusiast who only knows slightly less about the beautiful game than you do.

A contributor to FourFourTwo and Forbes, he is a Manchester City fan who was taken to Maine Road as a child because his grandad predicted they would one day be good.