The Brazilian star is finally now showing why Chelsea spent so much money on him over the summer…
After Chelsea won the three-horse with Liverpool and Tottenham race to sign Brazilian playmaker Willian in the summer, Premier League fans everywhere were eager to see the £33m star in action.
However, Jose Mourinho waited to deploy the 25-year-old, who was at first was only given brief substitute appearances, or the odd League Cup match to show off his undeniable talent.
As a result, Willian became quickly brandished a Premier League flop, which was perhaps unfair considering the fact he hadn’t been given much of a chance to impress.
Since late November though, he has started nine of Chelsea’s last ten matches, and came off the bench in the one match he was a substitute against Sunderland to score a lovely goal.
So why does Mourinho now rate Willian above Juan Mata, Andre Schurrle, and the soon to be departed Kevin De Bruyne…?
Willian’s attributes and his style:
What most fans didn’t realise about Willian, (partly due to their only knowledge of him stemming from multiple YouTube compilations) is that he has an unbelievable defensive work-rate.
Most Brazilian playmakers are considered a luxury, who are forgiven for their lack of defensive contribution because of their ability to create something out of nothing. (See messes Ronaldinho, Coutinho, Ganso, etc)
Willian though, works as hard defensively as he does offensively. He constantly tracks back and harries opponents when they’re in possession, and isn’t afraid of putting in a tackle.
The reason Mourinho reportedly didn’t favour Juan Mata in an attacking midfield spot is because his lack of defensive acumen. While world-class Eden Hazard can almost be afforded the licence to stay forward and wait for the ball to be given to him, two players in the side cannot – meaning the other attacking midfielders need to track back constantly.
Even in the no.10 role, Oscar does this, and Willian similarly contributes from the right.
On top of his defensive work, Willian has outstanding technical ability. He rarely ever gives the ball away, meaning he helps Chelsea maintain possession which eventually wears opponents down. Unlike Mata, who would often try and play a defence splitting ball immediately, and Andre Schurrle who is extremely direct – Willian prefers to keep it simple. With Oscar and Hazard capable of the sublime alongside him, Willian’s value to the team team is in his defensive work, and the way he can keep hold of the ball in tight areas, before choosing the right time to play an attacking, intricate through-ball.
Willian’s position in the side:
Willian’s natural position is on the right wing, where thanks to the fact he is completely two-footed, he can move inside and look to shoot with his left, or beat the fullback on the outside and cross with his right in equal measure.
Here’s how he currently lines up for the Blues:
With Willian in the side, Chelsea now have three players all in their natural attacking midfield position. With Mata in the team, neither the Spaniard or Oscar particularly wanted to play from the right, and both preferred the central no.10 role. This meant Mata would often drift in, and his lack of defensive work meant the Blues could be exposed down their right-hand side. Willian combats this problem, and fits into Mourinho’s style perfectly.
The statistics prove this theory, too… (Courtesy of WhoScored)
While Willian averages 1.6 tackles per match, and 0.6 interceptions, Mata only averages one tackle per match, and a lowly 0.2 interceptions. Schurrle too, contributes less defensively, averaging 1.1 tackles and 0.5 interceptions per match.
While Mata is more creative (averaging 2.2 key passes per match compared to Willian’s 1.4), Willian’s effectiveness in the side cannot be ignored. In his seven Premier League starts, Chelsea have won six and drawn the other.
Despite his slow start, it could well be that Willian will prove to be worth the mammoth transfer fee the Blues spent on him this summer.
Here’s some tweets, proving that journalists, teammates and fans alike are starting to see the benefits of the Brazilian:
Not many predicted that Willian would become so important for Chelsea at some stage of the season, when he first signed. Proving them wrong.
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) January 11, 2014
Players like Azpilicueta and Willian weren’t starters, but they showed to Mourinho they deserve to start. De Bruyne probably didn’t do that.
— John (@TheChelseaTalk) January 10, 2014
Willian: “I’ve been feeling better with every match. I’m getting to know the players better all the time, I’m very happy at #Chelsea.”
— Frank Lampard UK (@FrankLampardUK) January 8, 2014
Obi Mikel on his goal: “It was a fantastic ball from Willian, and I just needed to get my head to it. Then we got the second.” #CFC
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) January 6, 2014
CECH ON WILLIAN: “He has been absolutely brilliant in the recent matches!” http://t.co/wBS2miSzKG
— CFC Chelsea FC (@CFC_ChelseaFC) January 4, 2014
— Toma (@ChelseaHeroToma) January 12, 2014
If Torres gains more confidence and Hazard, Willian n Oscar carry on doing there thing I can see Chelsea winning it this season.
— KD (@Kenan_Dewar) January 12, 2014