The performances from Willian over the past week have been excellent and Chelsea will be hoping that he can maintain that level for the season run-in.
The Blues have been too reliant on Eden Hazard this season and, quite often, if the Belgian international doesn’t perform, the team don’t win.
They have been labelled a one-man team by some on social media and that hasn’t been an unfair accusation. However, there has been an improvement during the last three matches and their Brazilian international has been a major reason for that.
The upturn in form started with a win over West Brom in the Premier League. It wasn’t an excellent performance by any means, but it was notable as it put an end to their winless run and injected confidence into the squad.
The victory also served to provide Antonio Conte with a new enthusiasm that had been lacking when Chelsea had been beaten convincingly by Bournemouth and Watford in back-to-back fixtures.
Although it gave the squad a platform to build on, there remained worries about their motivation and ability to compete with the rest of the top-six.
Hull City offered a tricky test in the FA Cup just days before the return of the Champions League, but Chelsea delivered a professional performance filled with class.
They were 4-0 up by half-time and Willian was the star performer. He scored two goals as he exploded back into form. It could have been a hat-trick for him on another day as he hit the woodwork in the closing moments.
It was an all-action display from the 29-year-old and he looked to have motivation that he had been lacking earlier in the season. Every time, the ball arrived at his feet, he would be positive in his choices.
During the match, he completed six dribbles, attempted four shots and made four key passes. He couldn’t have been more influential and his efforts earned him an opportunity against Barcelona.
Willian didn’t let his manager down during the contest with the La Liga side. It is one thing playing well in the FA Cup against lower league opposition and a completely other thing to show up when it matters most.
During his Chelsea career, the Brazilian international had always been a dangerous player, but he hadn’t proven himself in the biggest matches and that is why managers have been reluctant to make him a regular starter at Stamford Bridge.
That may have changed in the Champions League as he delivered a man-of-the-match display against one of the best teams in Europe.
Few thought that Chelsea could compete with Barcelona, but they showed that they could and earned a credible 1-1 draw in the first-leg. Willian was central to that success and with a bit more luck, they would have won the game.
The Brazilian international hit the woodwork twice and it looked like it wasn’t going to be his day. They were two excellent efforts from range and showed his quality from outside the area.
Willian is capable of scoring from anywhere inside the final third and in recent weeks, it looks like he has been given more encouragement to shoot on sight.
He didn’t lose his confidence and eventually he did find a way past Marc-Andre ter Stegen as he fired his side into a lead.
There wasn’t much to choose between his performances against Hull City and Barcelona, but the latter was more meaningful.
He completed six dribbles, attempted four shots and made four key passes, the exact same numbers as he produced in the FA Cup.
Willian has been accused of lacking consistency in the past, but that can’t be directed at him over this past week.
In addition to his attacking threat, the 29-year-old forward worked hard out of possession and that is important against a team like Barcelona.
The visitors dominated possession with 73% and Chelsea needed every player on the pitch to contribute off-the-ball.
Willian played his part as he won two tackles. Pedro is seen as the more industrious player when compared to his Brazilian team-mate and that may be part of the reason why he is picked to start more often.
However, that may change during the last few months of the season, as Willian has showed that he can combine work rate with attacking threat.
Chelsea’s problems lie in attack and the Brazilian could emerge to provide the support that Eden Hazard desperately needs.
Despite only starting 13 times in the Premier League this season, he has contributed four goals and six assists, with a goal involvement every 123.9 minutes.
Since the 2015/16 season, Willian has struggled to be as important to the team. During that campaign, he won both Chelsea Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year. Chelsea didn’t do well that year and finished in a lowly 10th position.
In hindsight, the attacker’s accomplishments were dampened by the team’s underachievement. Now, he has a real opportunity to reach those standards again, but this time in a side challenging for major honours.