Chelsea were dealt an early blow ahead of their Premier League title defence, as Eden Hazard suffered a serious injury while on international duty with Belgium. He fractured his left ankle and he is set to miss the start of the season as a result. The time spent on the sidelines alone is a problem, but he will also be at a disadvantage when he does return, as he won’t have had a pre-season of any kind. The attacker won’t be able to hit his stride immediately and he will need to be reintegrated slowly. Antonio Conte has already confirmed that he won’t rush his star player back too soon, which means the Blues need somebody to step up and deputise for the 26-year-old.
They haven’t signed anybody, which means that Conte must have faith in a player already at Stamford Bridge. Willian played his part last season, but he wasn’t a regular starter, despite being voted the club’s player of the year during the previous campaign. After the change to the 3-4-3 formation, he struggled for game-time as Pedro and Hazard were the starting wide attackers. The Brazilian was linked with a transfer away, but he has stayed to fight for his place and he will get an opportunity to impress during the opening weeks of the new season. He is the logical replacement and it is up to him to prove to his manager that he has a big role to play.
Willian contributed eight goals and two assists last season, as he often came off the bench to cause problems against tiring opposition defences. He was involved in a goal every 155.2 minutes, which underlines the quality that he has in the final third. The stat may be skewed by his limited game-time, but it illustrates how effective he can be in the 3-4-3 formation. During the season, he averaged 2.96 chances created and 2.55 attempted shots per ninety minutes. He is an intelligent player capable of exploiting space in the final third, in addition to possessing the quality to create space for himself when running with the ball.
The success of this formation relies on having mobile and dynamic attackers capable of carrying out a fluid role in the final third. Hazard and Pedro both do that well, but their roles do differ slightly. Pedro is more direct and looking to take up goal-scoring positions. Meanwhile, Hazard is asked to roam in the attacking half and is given freedom to express himself. His pace and close ball control makes him an excellent counter-attacking player. In the transition phase, he is crucial and Chelsea need to find a player that can carry the ball long distances like the Belgian.
Nobody will ever argue that Willian is as good as Hazard, but he is capable of carrying out the role. Chelsea can’t afford to start slowly, therefore they need to pick up points without their star player. His Brazilian team-mate is good on the ball, an effective dribbler and a threat in the final third. After a disappointing campaign as a supporting player, Willian now has the opportunity to stake a claim for a regular starting spot. He certainly has the ability to thrive under the pressure and it is important that he does. If not, the Blues could be far behind the leading pack by the time Hazard returns to full fitness.