After Chelsea’s back-to-back defeats at the hands of Man City and, most recently, lowly Crystal Palace, Chelsea fans have begun to ask questions about who, or what, is to blame. Certain players are coming under the microscope as the Blues need to find a quick response to their problems before the crunch Champions League clash against Roma at Stamford Bridge.
One such player who fans are beginning to ask serious questions about is Willian. The Brazilian winger endured a torrid game over at Selhurst Park before being substituted after 65 minutes for youngster Charley Musonda.
A game to forget
Football fans often like to pick a scapegoat when their team loses. For Chelsea, this usually seems to be split between Gary Cahill, Marcos Alonso or Willian. Granted, Willian put in a very poor performance against Crystal Palace; he seemed fatigued, over-tired and lacking in confidence. It was even the Brazilian’s lacklustre touch that eventually led to Wilfried Zaha scoring Palace’s winner.
Willian lacked a creative spark all game, and according to WhoScored, only managed 39 touches whilst contributing one key pass. To put this into perspective, both goalkeepers managed more touches of the ball.
However, it is not just the Palace game that has seen Willian fail to really contribute to Chelsea’s performances. The 29-year-old is yet to score a goal in all competitions for the Blues and has only managed one assist in the Premier League. For a team whose aspirations of clinging onto their Premier League title are rapidly fading, Willian needs to start contributing more to help spread out the load and expectation currently lumped on Eden Hazard’s shoulders.
A case for patience
Following on from consecutive Premier League defeats, emotions were always bound to run high. But now is not the time for Chelsea fans to be calling for Willian’s head, either in the starting XI or come the January transfer window. Chelsea’s 2015-16 Player of the Year has always been very much a form player. When he’s off the boil, he can be frustrating to watch – consistent in giving the ball away and having no product – but when he gets back into the groove, the Brazilian is one of the trickiest customers in the league. No doubt, when the confidence returns, we will begin to see the best of the man from São Paulo again.
He may have to settle with a spell on the sidelines in the Blues’ upcoming fixtures, with the likes of Hazard and Pedro expected to flank Alvaro Morata. But this is nothing new for Willian, as during the title-winning campaign last year, he was often in and out of the team, nearly making as many appearances off the bench as he did from the starting XI. Yet, his desire, enthusiasm and commitment were never questioned – and he often popped up with key contributions.
A lack of alternatives
Aside from Pedro and Hazard, Chelsea are not blessed with many alternatives to support Morata in Antonio Conte’s front three. Should either of those get injured, Willian is likely to be guaranteed a starting berth. Musonda is slowly laying his mark on the first team squad, but is still only 21 years of age and is not expected to dislodge either Willian or Pedro from the starting XI in any of the bigger games – with Musonda very much a player for the future.
Looking ahead to January, and if Chelsea were to sell Willian (they should expect a decent fee for him), then the potential replacements that would be considered an improvement on Willian are relatively threadbare. Riyad Marhez of Leicester was consistently linked with Chelsea over the summer, yet has endured a miserable campaign thus far. Angel Di María could be a pricey option, but the Argentine largely underwhelmed during his only Premier League campaign with Man United. Marco Reus would be an astute acquisition should he ever stay fit for more than ten games, whilst Antoine Griezmann seems destined to join the red side of Manchester should he leave Atletico Madrid.
Following on from what many would consider a disappointing summer transfer window, the options in January to seize a player who would be an improvement on Willian seem to be more or less non-existent. And whilst the Brazilian may be out of form and out of luck at the moment, he has shown previously that he can return from dodgy periods to be a key player, and should not be cast out into the wilderness just yet.
Header image: “Willian / Виллиан” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Aleksandr Osipov