Long-term Chelsea winger Willian has been the subject of a vast amount of criticism in recent seasons. His lack of end product has left the majority of Chelsea fans angered at the fact he remains in West London.
If you are expecting 1,000 words on why the Brazilian should leave the club then click off now. In this piece, I will be playing devil’s advocate and attempting to shed light on why Willian is such a favourite of Sarri, and other managers.
The news on Thursday night of Willian being the target of a £50m-plus-Malcom offer from Barcelona sent the majority of the Chelsea fanbase jumping for joy. Here is just a small selection of reactions to the news:
Just two hours after the story broke, the Telegraph quickly brought fans back down to reality with the news that the offer had been rejected from Chelsea. Journalist Jason Burt revealed in the article that the offer from Barcelona was not £50m plus Malcom. Instead, it was an unknown sum of cash plus the Barcelona winger, totalling the deal to a value of £50m. This would make a lot more sense.
Willian is nine years older than Malcom and has just 18 months left on his contract. Most clubs in Europe would bite your hand off if such an offer became available to them.
So, why did Chelsea reject it?
Putting it simply, Willian is not as bad as many fans make out. Sure, there are better options out there, younger ones too, but there are reasons every Chelsea manager has stuck with the Brazilian.
His goals output is undoubtedly the most disappointing part of his game. Willian has scored just 50 career league goals, 27 coming in a Chelsea shirt. His best Premier League tally for the blues came in the 2016/17 title winning campaign, netting eight times. Not exactly jaw-dropping.
However, focusing solely on this season, the extreme criticism targeted towards Willian is unjust for the most part. The idea that the Brazilian is a hard worker has become somewhat of a myth, with fans arguing that his work rate is actually quite low.
The stats show that Willian has made more tackles per 90 minutes than his rival wingers, Eden Hazard and Pedro. Not impressive enough? What if I told you he makes more tackles on average than Jorginho, David Luiz and even Antonio Rüdiger? Food for thought.
The 30-year-old is also better offensively than fans give him credit for. Only two players at the club, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and inevitably Eden Hazard, have a better take on success rate than Willian this season. He fairs even better when it comes to chances created; he leads the way at Chelsea with 4.17 chances created per 90 minutes.
Being South American, you would expect a player such as Willian to be positive with his passes and always try to look forward. His stats back this up with Mateo Kovacic being the only player at Chelsea who completes more forward passes than Willian on average. His frequency of assists do not match these figures, although with the club looking for a new striker it is clear why his assists column is lacking.
Crossing is a big issue at Chelsea. Olivier Giroud and Álvaro Morata are great in the air but manager Maurizio Sarri has turned to Hazard to be his frontman in recent weeks, perhaps due to the lack of quality crosses. Willian is by no means exquisite at putting balls in the box, however he has completed more open play crosses than anyone at the club this season, Hazard and César Azpilicueta being his nearest challengers.
Managers have come and gone since Willian signed for Chelsea in 2013. All four of his managers have put their faith in him by consistently starting the winger and in that time he has been involved in two Premier League winning teams and won Chelsea Player of the Year in 2016. A player can get away with being a teacher’s pet under a manager, but for four different bosses to stick with Willian might make you rethink how important he is to the club.
Jose Mourinho has been a big advocate of Willian since the two worked together between 2013 and 2015. The Portuguese had plenty of positive words regarding Willian when the latter put his side in front at Old Trafford while Mourinho was in charge at Manchester United.
Mourinho said: “Do you want to talk about Willian? Top, cream of the crop, he’s amazing.”
This came not long after Willian was linked with a big money move to reunite with his former boss. The move never transpired but when arguably one of the greatest managers of all time wants you, it normally means you are pretty special. The following summer, Barcelona’s first sign of interest in Willian came to light when the Catalan club had a whopping £65m bid turned down by Chelsea following a succession of smaller offers. Again, if Barcelona are willing to pay that much for a player then how justified is this criticism?
Willian is certainly not the best player at Chelsea and I am not asking fans for him to be your favourite Chelsea man, just think twice when you hit ‘tweet’ on your phone. Fans are entitled their opinions of course, and no player is immune to criticism, but the level of hatred Willian receives is, at times, nothing short of disgusting.
Fans are quick to pick out a scapegoat when things are not quite going to plan. Chelsea could be in a better position under Sarri and have got themselves into a battle for top four rather than a title race, but Willian is not to blame. Whether most fans are simply jumping on the bandwagon or whether they genuinely despise the Brazilian, Willian is not as bad as he is being made out.
All statistics credited to Squawka.com
Written by Liam Wilson.