Chelsea blew away the Premier League last year and performances from the likes of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa impressed fans and pundits alike, while the hard-working Willian went largely unnoticed…….. not this season though.
What is catching the eye most with the 27-year-old this season is his ability from a dead ball situation as he seems to have turned himself into the Brazilian Beckham over the summer, scoring from three direct free-kicks so far (against Newcastle United, Southampton and Porto).
The main criticism he has received from Chelsea supporters in the past revolves around his lack of influence in the final third of the pitch – and where Hazard is lacking this season – Willian is going some way to fill the gap.
His goals have all come from the direct free-kicks and he also has one assist to his name following the squared pass to set up Costa’s goal in the 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday (he only managed three throughout 2014-15).
Federico Fernandez’s own goal in the 2-2 draw with Swansea City on the opening day of the season at Stamford Bridge also came via a deflection from a Willian cross.
Faulting Willian’s assist and goal return in a Chelsea shirt is arguably harsh anyway as he has never scored more than five goals in a single season, and under manager Jose Mourinho, he has been deployed mainly as a winger whose main objective is to help out defensively to aid his full-back, Branislav Ivanovic.
In relation to Ivanovic, his job has become even more important as the normally reliable Serbian has been off colour to say the least of late. Now Willian has to cover for Ivanovic as well as be more productive in the final third to make up for Hazard’s dip in form.
Last season the ex-Shakhtar Donetsk man played 36 out of a possible 38 league games, and in over 60% of those matches he was substituted – no wonder considering how much effort he has to put in week in, week out.
Willian’s defensive duties also contribute to creating space for the Blues’ more offensive players such as Hazard, who of course won PFA Player of the Year last season as well as picking up the same accolade for his club.
Only three regular first-team Chelsea players (Fabregas. Nemanja Matic and Oscar) covered more ground than Willian, who ran over 10,000 metres over the course of the west Londoners’ first title winning campaign in five years.
In many senses he is the perfect Mourinho player – not just his work rate but how much of a team player he is and how much personal desire he holds.
Since he signed for club in the summer of 2013 – Kevin De Bruyne, Juan Mata and Andre Schurrle have all been sold while Mohamed Salah and Juan Cuadrado have both arrived and been shipped out on loan to Roma and Juventus respectively, while Willian has kept his place.
With De Bruyne and Mata specifically, they were not willing to be patient, or adapt their game to impress Mourinho, while Willian has done anything he has been instructed to – even though in some cases it has restricted him.
A lot of his work may go unappreciated, but without Willian, Chelsea would probably be doing even worse this season.