It would not be an exaggeration to call Willian Chelsea’s saviour at the moment.
The Brazilian winger, 29, has this uncanny ability to assume the mantle of Chelsea’s hero at the most opportune of times. It happened in 2015 as Chelsea attempted that lamentable defence of their Premier League title under Jose Mourinho. It was one of the most forgettable seasons in Chelsea’s history but Willian’s efforts helped to lend it some dignity.
The Blues’ title defence this time around is not nearly as bad but it has still been seriously wanting. Willian once again seems the player most ready to step up to the plate by delivering one inspiring performance after another. His goal against crystal palace was his fifth in as many games, bringing in season tally for Chelsea to 13. Only Eden Hazard has scored more this season, and Willian has never been more prolific since arriving at Stamford Bridge.
His stunning form has meant that a player who so often in the past had to settle for a place on the bench is now virtually undroppable.
Antonio Conte: Willian playing ‘fantastic’
The Chelsea boss may have preferred Pedro to Willian for most of the season so far but he was singing the number 22’s praises after the win over crystal palace.
“You can see that if a player stays in great form I’m the first to pick him in the starting XI,” Conte told his press conference. “Willian is playing in a fantastic way, but I want to underline, not only with the ball, also without the ball.
“He’s working very hard and he’s helping the team without the ball. He’s showing great maturity at this point of his career. In my heart I hope to see him at this level, to continue this performance. He’s playing very well with the ball, without the ball.
“It’s important to have balance within the game, because when we lose our balance it’s very difficult.”
This means that Willian is almost assured of his starting berth against Barcelona on Wednesday. If the speedster continues where you left off in the first leg of the tie, the likes of Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti will certainly have something to think about at Camp Nou.
Chelsea’s number 22 could easily have had a hat trick in that game had the posts not been so kind to Barcelona (and suspiciously thicker).
Ahead of the game, the player himself has spoken of his joy in having secured his spot in Conte’s Starting XI. He told Chelsea FC’s magazine on Tuesday:
“I think you have to enjoy yourself on the pitch. To play football, you have to be happy. I have to enjoy this moment now. When you start to play more games, or when you play every match, you have confidence and things are good for you, then you can keep smiling.”
If William graces the Camp Nou pitch on Wednesday, as indeed he appears likely to, every Chelsea fan will have a reason to be optimistic.
Featured image: Twitter