With Willian unlikely to extend his contract beyond this season, it is time to take a deep dive into analyzing what will be his last season at Chelsea.
As much as fans feel his goal contributions over the years have been below expectations, Willian is more important to this Chelsea team than most fans think. His presence both on and off the field will certainly be missed if he departs.
Ever since snubbing Spurs to join Chelsea in 2013, Willian has been a loyal servant to the club. Even though his loyalty is now being questioned amid transfer rumours to rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, Willian’s contributions this season should not be forgotten as they have significantly helped Chelsea deal with the loss of Eden Hazard.
Willian will always be remembered for his relentless work ethic and defensive contributions. The hard work he displays on the field when pressing the opposition and tracking back to help out his defenders led Frank Lampard to claim that his off-the-ball performance against Southampton in October set the standard for all other wingers in the team. Over the course of his stay at Chelsea, he has had to make up for Hazard’s lack of defensive awareness, making him an asset to the championship winning teams under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.
Willian defines the hard work and desire to win the ball that Lampard expects from his wingers. His 1.8 tackles per 90 minutes this season is the most by a Chelsea winger, proving that even at 31, he has the endurance and awareness to help his team out defensively as well as offensively. However, it is his attacking statistics that have mitigated the impact of losing Hazard.
In his final season at Chelsea, Hazard was directly involved in 49 percent of all Chelsea goals and was the chief creator of the team. As a result, Chelsea was regarded by many as a one-man team, and was expected to have an underwhelming first season under Lampard. Since Hazard’s departure, Willian has not only taken over his No. 10 jersey, but also his creative responsibilities.
Willian’s 46 key passes— or passes that directly lead to a shot—rank him among the top 10 creators in the Premier League this season, and the most creative among Chelsea players. Even though many of these chances have not led to goals, his creative contributions cannot be overlooked as he has been consistently breaking down opponent defences.
Although his five goals and five assists in the Premier League this season do not make for good reading, few can deny that he is still one of the best dribblers in the league. He has replaced Hazard as Chelsea’s most fouled player, drawing 39 fouls, as well as their main ball carrier. Of the Premier League’s attacking players, only Adama Traore, Jack Grealish and Wilfried Zaha have travelled more distance on the pitch with the ball at their feet than Willian.
Willian has always been an effective ball carrier. With the help of his blistering pace, he has the ability to turn defence into attack within seconds, which has been a feature of this young Lampard side. Willian’s 51 dribbles completed in the Premier League match that of Mateo Kovacic as the highest among Chelsea players, the latter of whom is often praised for his ability to glide past players in midfield.
Much of Willian’s good work this season has been overlooked due to ambiguity over his future at Chelsea coupled with some inconsistent spells. However, his experience and skills mentioned above are deserving of more credit, and explain why he has been a mainstay in Lampard’s side this season.
Regardless of his next destination, Willian will leave Chelsea as a legend, and will always be remembered by fans for his performances in the 2015/16 campaign.