One glance at the minutes played by Willian at the start of the Premier League season for Chelsea gives some indication to his role in the team. The Brazilian forward started in the opening day defeat at home to Burnley, playing the full 90 minutes but only once did Willian play 90 minutes in the Premier League during the next 15 matches.
The 29-year-old played 28 minutes against Leicester City, 56 minutes against Manchester City, 23 minutes against Watford, 10 minutes against Bournemouth, 9 minutes against Manchester United, 14 minutes against West Bromwich Albion, 11 minutes against Liverpool and 13 minutes against Newcastle United.
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This is just a snap shot of Willian’s season in terms of minutes on the pitch and each of these games was played in the first half of the campaign. Following Christmas, Willian continued to struggle for a regular place in the starting XI and it wasn’t until the match against Manchester United on the 25th February 2018 that Willian started to secure a place in the starting XI and play for 90 minutes.
In the Premier League match at Burnley on the 19th April, Willian was once again on the bench and did not feature but returned for the important FA Cup semi-final against Southampton on the weekend, only to be substituted in the second half, much to the players disgust.
Therefore, looking at these numbers, it would seem strange to claim Willian has shown why his is a very important player for Chelsea and arguably one of the best in his position in the Premier League. The Champions League match at home against Barcelona in the Round of 16 saw Willian at his best and he could easily have had a hattrick in the game had it not been for the woodwork. Yet, if you look at the minutes played in Chelsea’s Champions League campaign, the former Shakhtar Donetsk man played a full 90 minutes for only 50% of their games.
In the Premier League game against Leicester City, following defeat in the Champions League at the Camp Nou, Willian covered half the pitch, accelerating away from two players before setting up Alvaro Morata for a goal.
The way Willian can move with the ball at his feet is incredible and when he is in full flow, he moves away from players with ease. Willian scored crucial opening goals at Old Trafford and at home against Barcelona plus can shoot from distance, as shown against Hull City in the FA Cup and Crystal Palace and Brighton in the Premier League.
Willian has 13 goals this season, his best return in-front of goal since joining Chelsea and has time to add to his tally before the end of the season.
If the Brazilian international had been given more time in the team at the beginning of this season, things could have been different for Chelsea but Conte wanted to play in a specific way, which saw Willian dropped from the starting XI.
It appears the Italian has learned from his mistake and Willian has become more prominent as the season has progressed. However, he remains a very under rated player in the Premier League and perhaps Willian’s real value will be felt when he is no longer at the club.
Willian is a player who can carry the ball a long way at pace from the opposition half of the field plus score and create goals. There are many teams in the Premier League and Europe who would love to have someone with that ability in their team next season.