While the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas have been constantly slammed for their lacklustre performances for Chelsea over the course of the season so far, there’s an unsung hero in the side who perhaps doesn’t receive enough recognition for keeping the sinking ship that is Chelsea above water in these dark times.
Industrious midfielder Willian, 27, has featured in most of the current Premier League champions top-flight outings this season, scoring seven goals in all competitions. He operates as a winger, but his role is more complex than that of a conventional wide man.
The Brazilian international, signed from Anzhi Makhachkala for £32 million pounds in August 2013, not only provides support and creativity as expected of him as a forward, but he also has to be defensively resolute, as out of form right-back Branislav Ivanovic is prone to bombing forward in attack which can leave the defence exposed.
Manager Jose Mourinho expects a tireless work rate from all his players, and Willian has been sculptured into a fine example of this over the past 3 seasons. With Eden Hazard – who is meant to be the first name on the team sheet- being dropped for matches against the likes of Aston Villa it has been up to Willian to reassure the beleaguered front 4.
Against Villa, Willian exemplified everything Mourinho wants from his players, providing an industrious performance from start to finish. Hazard was not introduced until the 80th minute, since I was physically at the match that day I can speak from experience and say that Hazard was not missed. Yet the same could not have been said for Willian.
The 27-year-old has made more attempted tackles than the majority of the starting XI this season, which highlights just how much work he’s doing to keep the opposition quiet. But coupled together with how many goals Chelsea have still conceded this season it shows just how poor they have been. If it were not for his performances then things would surely be worse.
And when he has possession, his high energy levels are immediately apparent with Willian having made countless successful dribbles in an attempt to get his team moving up the pitch quickly or to just try and provide the defence a breather as it is constantly under siege in recent games.
There have been lots of stories published about Mourinho has lost the dressing room or that players have become disillusioned with life under Mourinho. Both have proved false and no one has exemplified this more than Willian himself. Against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League the build-up was not about the team but about whether it would be the manager’s last match in charge if things did not go to plan.
Whether this was true or not Willian took it into his own hands to make sure nothing did happen. Scoring as exquisite direct free kick from 30 yards that had everyone in Stamford Bridge gasping, he proved that the team were still playing for the manager.
Also at a recent promotional event for the new video game Need for Speed, Willian gave a quick insight into his relationship with Mourinho. “‘I am in a good moment now. Mourinho is a manager who gives me a lot of confidence, and I am very happy working with him” These are surely not the words of a player representing a rebellious dressing room?
Another perk to Willian’s game is his versatility, able to play in anyone of three attacking positions utilised by Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 formation he can be moved around to compensate for the underperforming midfielders such as Oscar or Cesc Fabregas or to make simply make space for world cup winner Pedro, in the team that he was meant to be waltz into but has had the door shut in his face by the form of Willian.
Before this season Willian was almost the complete player with just one part of the jigsaw remaining to be solved, his lack of end product. Last season he failed to follow suit of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa by reaching double figures for goals scored. Whilst still being fundamentally important he did not provide enough where it mattered.
Fast forward to the new season and he is now Chelsea’s primary goal threat, whether that is from open play or from set pieces which he seems to have suddenly mastered. With 7 goals already this season it looks as though he is well on course to finishing the season as the blues top scorer and prove even more how he has become the blues most important player.