Joe Tweeds of Plains of Almería profiles Willian’s encouraging debut season in English football…
The twists and turns of Willian’s Chelsea career despite its tender age have been quite magnificent this season. The circumstances of his transfer have now become a point of notoriety in the eternal jousting between Chelsea and Tottenham. Paying for his flights, his hotel and everything else in between Willian left his medical at Spurs Lodge and signed for Chelsea hours later. It spawned a song that was fuelled by Czech beer in Prague and the Brazilian’s own acknowledgement of it cemented him as a cult hero before he had even kicked a ball.
This leads us to a historical debate – can a cult hero actually be a decent footballer? Belletti was beloved at Chelsea for his passion, long range goals and general demeanour. Paulo Ferreira was once a top class full-back but evolved into the consummate squad player, wheeled out occasionally to put Gareth Bale in his pocket. Willian might well go and redefine this definition.
First seasons are typically difficult and the development that Willian has shown over the course of his first year is tangible proof of this statement. A slow start with fans even questioning why he was needed is now firmly in the past. Willian’s dynamism and quality has seen him usurp all but Eden Hazard as one of Mourinho’s first choice players. An extremely rare combination of technical quality, work rate and defensive ability makes Willian a superb weapon for Mourinho to utilise.
There are definite improvements to be made in terms of his confidence and decision making in the final third. Chelsea fans remember Willian tearing us to pieces in his time in Ukraine; we can only hope that after he fully adjusts we see more of that killer instinct. He is blessed with exceptional quickness and aligns that wonderfully with elite close control. His goal against Stoke epitomised this ability to shift a ball and create a fraction of space to unleash his shot. We need to see more of this because these types of goals and finishes are what Willian can regularly produce.
Defensively his work ethic and general understanding are otherworldly. Chelsea’s game plan at the Etihad revolved around Willian’s ability to instantly put Touré under pressure as soon as the Ivorian took possession. In Touré’s least effective game all year Willian stole the show by completely nullifying him and corralling him into the paths of Luiz and Matić.
In a team that is continually progressing towards a pressing game that incorporates devastatingly quick transitions Willian is key. Either working as a number ten or as a winger his ability to both create and nullify in equal measure is superb. The development and understanding he exhibits with his fellow midfielders has led to some sparkling football and at times Willian is the heartbeat of this Chelsea sides work ethic.
What does the future hold for Chelsea’s number 22? Will he usurp Oscar as Chelsea’s starting number ten? Will he continue to operate in a wide berth? Or will he transition to operating as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3 shape? His transformation from a stick to beat Tottenham with to a player of genuine starting class has been great to watch. Once his adaptation is complete and his scintillating attacking form finds a consistent place at Chelsea then hold tight.