There comes a time when one must move on from something or someone to enable themselves to progress and continue to grow in life. No, I’m not talking about your childhood crush or the memories of your recent ex. I’m talking about Chelsea’s #22, Willian. All through the summer, Barcelona flirted with an offer for Willian before launching an official bid late in July. Chelsea went on to reject multiple bids from the Catalan club, all of which were north of £50 million. Yes, you read that right, that’s equivalent to what we paid for Alvaro Morata and Fernando Torres. What a wonderful opportunity to recoup some of those loses right? But no, someone at the club thought otherwise and Willian is still a Blue and his ghostly performances have begun to haunt some die-hard fans.
Chelsea made a lightning start in the Premier League, going toe-to-toe with Manchester City and Liverpool and were unbeaten across all competitions until mid-November. That is an impressive start to the season, made even more eye-catching with a new manager at the helm. But the exciting start to Sarri-life, driven by Hazard’s brilliance, masked a number of flaws and cracks in this Chelsea team and system. Over the last month, the Blues suffered embarrassing defeats to Spurs and Wolves, leading to increased scrutiny of the team. One of the many players being earmarked for not pulling their weight in the team has been Willian, with disappointment and frustration levels gradually increasing from whispers to roars.
At the start of the season, it looked like Pedro had cemented his place alongside Hazard as the starting wingers, scoring goals and linking up superbly with the Belgian and Morata/Giroud. Having played under Pep at Barcelona, it was clear that Pedro was adept to playing in Sarri’s attacking system, with his technical abilities at the forefront. However, unfortunate injuries derailed his start to the season and in came Willian to fill his shoes. Willian had a poor World Cup and fans were nervous to see his reaction at club level. However, he flew under the radar as Hazard and Sarri garnered praise and Morata becoming the public scapegoat. But with the strikers continuing to misfire and Hazard on a scoreless streak since October, Willian’s shortcomings came to the fore.
The Brazilian has 2 goals and 2 assists to his name in 15 Premier League games so far, which are not acceptable numbers for a player playing for one of England’s biggest clubs. Fans don’t expect him to be the talisman that Hazard is but need him to perform when Hazard has a quiet day. With Chelsea’s strikers failing to knock in the goals, the wingers become key in scoring crucial goals (look at what Son does for Spurs when Kane has quiet games).
Not just that, Willian scoring goals would ease the burden on Hazard and also ease the pressure on the much-maligned strikers, but he has consistently failed to do so. Willian has missed gilt-edged opportunities this season to add to his tally, most notably when he was 1 on 1 with the keeper twice at Wolves and scuffed his lines. If only he could have scored those and many others, Chelsea would have won games more comfortably this season.
A winger can be forgiven for a lack of goals if he was racking in the assists for his teammates, but Willian struggles here too. Very often this season he has had the opportunity to square the ball to Morata or Hazard in the box but his poor decision making has resulted in lost opportunities. Would Morata have converted all those chances? Doubtful, but Willian has to make the right decision when on the ball and very often he doesn’t. Willian has not positively affected Chelsea’s attacking play and instead the team looks toothless when he plays. Misdirected passes, poor finishing, and terrible decision making have summed up his season so far. However, this is not a one season problem that can be forgiven. Here are his numbers in the Premier League since he joined the Blues that highlight these persistent issues:
- 2014-15: 2 goals & 3 assists in 36 games
- 2015-16: 5 goals & 6 assists in 35 games
- 2016-17: 8 goals & 2 assists in 34 games
- 2017-18: 6 goals & 7 assists in 36 games
These numbers are extremely poor for a winger playing for a top 6 team. Added to his poor output is his horrible attitude when things aren’t going his way. Over the years, his sulky face and anger at being substituted have been clear to see for everyone. However, over the last two years under Conte, this became even more prevalent. He was in a constant battle with Pedro for a starting spot, and while they split duties quite evenly, it was the Brazilian constantly whining about his playing time instead of performing on the pitch.
Towards the end of Conte’s managerial era it was well known that he had lost the dressing room, but no player spoke of it publicly. Until Willian did so after the FA Cup victory. He posted a team photo taken during the celebrations and hid Conte with trophy emojis, which in all honesty is immature and childish. Not something you expect from a professional.
On the flip side, Willian was Chelsea’s stand out player in the 2015-16 season where the Blues’ were atrocious, winning the clubs POTY award. But now I wonder if he really was that good, or did he just seem good because everyone around him had dropped below his poor standards. It’s probably the latter as there have been no signs of progress since that season. Furthermore, Willian has often been praised for his work rate, with many suggesting that he provided a good balance to the team. Yes, a winger’s work rate is important, especially when you have Hazard not helping out too much on the other side. But do you really weigh his defensive abilities more than his attacking ones? I don’t think so. Moreover, since August 2015, Chelsea have kept a clean sheet in approximately 40% of their matches with Willian playing. So, is his defensive role really that important?
But why have Chelsea fans finally lost their patience with Willian you ask? There are three reasons for that. Firstly, Sarri has come in and revolutionized Chelsea’s play style. Gone are the days of parking the bus and hitting teams on the counter. The Blues now look to dominate possession and wins games with attacking prowess, and it is this new philosophy that made Willian’s shortcomings extremely prominent. Secondly, Pedro is clearly a better player and fit for the new look Chelsea system. His attacking abilities are superior, highlighted with his fine finishing abilities and his work rate is comparable if not better than Willian’s. Chelsea fans have become infuriated with Willian wasting chances and barely creating anything when they know Pedro could have made the difference needed.
The final and probably most important reason is the rise of Callum Hudson-Odoi. The 18-year-old starlet has been at Chelsea ever since he was 8 and is tipped to be the best academy product at Chelsea since John Terry( who joined the Chelsea youth set-up at 14). His performances, however, limited they have been, have suggested that all the hype around him is well deserved. Given his chance in the preseason, he impressed against the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City. The talent was there to be seen.
Then more recently against PAOK in the Europa League, he stole the limelight. Scoring and assisting his first ever goals for the club in his first start was impressive, and he did this while playing on both wings. There is always a sense of excitement when he has the ball at his feet, something that Willian has lost over time. Every Chelsea fan yearns for Hudson-Odoi to take Willian’s place, and it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Hudson-Odoi and Willian are at different ends of their careers and it’s high time that Sarri and Chelsea take a gamble on the youngster to take over from Willian. Age should not be a factor because there is no way that Odoi will worsen the team. At the very minimum he will match Willian’s performance and output, but in all honesty, he is far better and more determined than Willian. The Brazilian has served us well over the years and is loved by the club. However, his performances and attitude have continued to miss the mark and with a young star waiting in the wings, it’s time for Willian to move over. Thank you, Willian, for the wonder goals, freekicks, slick skills, and your puffy hairstyle, but now it’s time to end this relationship. Move over Willy, the CHOsen one is coming through!
Featured Image – Evening Standard
Pedro & Willian – Squawka
FA Cup Celebration – Express
Hudson Odoi – Standard
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