Chelsea have been criticised for being a one-man team for the entire season, as their attack is focused on Eden Hazard. If the Belgian international has a bad game, it is likely that the team will struggle to create and produce relatively little in the final third. Antonio Conte needed to find a solution in attack to prevent the side from being as predictable as they currently are. It seemed unlikely that it would come from within the current squad. That was until recently, as Willian has stepped up his game and now looks every inch a top-tier player.
Since moving to Stamford Bridge, the Brazilian has offered a threat in attack, but he has never looked like a player capable of dominating matches at the highest level. Although he was awarded the club’s player of the year award during the 2015/16 season, Willian was thriving in a team that was woefully underperforming, He stood out as the rest of the squad were awful, rather than his performances reaching a very high standard. A return of five goals and six assists isn’t anything to write home about and the fact he was quickly dropped from the first-team after the appointment of Conte wasn’t a huge surprise.
The Italian chose the dynamism of Hazard and winning mentality of Pedro over the dependable Willian. It seemed odd due to the Brazilian’s consistency during the previous season, but as the team finished in a lowly 10th position, his performances didn’t impress his new manager. He emerged as a good rotation option and made an impact when he did get the opportunity to step on the pitch. However, he started only 15 league matches and his status in the squad wasn’t what he would have hoped for after enhancing his reputation during the previous campaign.
His playing time during the current season hasn’t increased by much, but his recent displays have seen him break into the first-team and he could now be ready to produce his best football in a Blues’ shirt. The FA Cup has lost its magic as the top teams often make several changes to their starting eleven, but Willian used it as an opportunity to break into the first team. Against Hull City, he was the best player on the pitch, contributing two goals and nearly scoring a third in the closing minutes, only to see his strike hit the woodwork. During the match, he attempted four shots, completed six dribbles and made four key passes. He was the most influential player and a major reason for the convincing victory.
Willian then followed that up with a career-making performance against Barcelona. The majority of Europe had written Chelsea off in this tie, but they delivered an excellent display and came close to winning at Stamford Bridge in the home leg. Conte showed faith in the 29-year-old and he repaid his manager with another influential showing. The Brazilian attempted four shots, completed six dribbles and made four key passes. He once again found the back of the net with a sumptuous strike from range after striking the woodwork twice. His accuracy from range is one of his best attributes and when he is playing with confidence, he provides another dimension to the Blues’ attack.
Although Willian has been a consistent performer for the club since joining, he has never managed to influence games at the highest level. In recent weeks, something has clicked for him as he is now outshining Hazard in attack. The team may have lost against Manchester United, but the 29-year-old was one of the best performers on the pitch. During the match, he attempted four shots, completed eight dribbles and made one key pass. He is electrifying when running with the ball and at the moment, he looks ready to dominate any defence in the world. On Sunday, he scored again to make it four in his last three.
Three matches don’t make a season, but Willian now has five goals and six assists in the Premier League. This matches his return when he won player of the year at Stamford Bridge, despite playing a lot less during the current campaign. His development has been under the radar due to not being a regular starter and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his form. Chelsea are currently in a difficult position in terms of achieving something this season, but if they are to salvage their season, Willian will be key.