It’s fair to say that Willian is a player who divides opinion amongst Chelsea supporters. While many cite his work-ethic, speed and dribbling ability, others note a lack of goals, assists and question his lack of consistency.
Pundits always tend to laud the Brazilian as one of Chelsea’s key players, but is he a vastly underrated player or a dispensable myth of a footballer?
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Taking a look at the statistics, both in his time at Chelsea and before he signed, they do not favour the £32 million forward. In 184 Premier League appearances, Willian has notched a mere 27 goals - or a goal every seven matches - which works out at roughly six goals per season.
Over the course of his career for club and country, Willian has played 519 games and scored 88 goals at an average of a goal every six matches whilst never netting more than eight goals in a single league campaign.
Considering he has spent a decent portion of his career playing in Ukraine, Russia and Brazil, this is a paltry return for a player who strikes the ball as crisply as Willian and this is where many supporters have major concerns over the Brazilian and his effectiveness in the Chelsea side.
For context regarding Willian’s goal return, Mohamed Salah scored more league goals in one season for Liverpool than Willian did in five seasons.
A player with Willian’s skillset should produce far more as far as attacking productivity is concerned. This is my major frustration; he should be able to produce so much more than he does.
Willian undoubtedly possesses raw ability. Few players can shift direction like he does, few players have the capability to counter-attack at such pace, but there are so few times where the Brazilian knits the best facets of his game together to produce decisive moments. Instead, there’s always a sense of ‘what if’ surrounding his play.
The major gripe is that there is a fantastically talented player in there, however, the application of talent can be found wanting.
Performances such as his display at Burnley where, in Eden Hazard's absence, he ran the attacking third, only fuel the desire to want more consistency.
Willian provided impetus, pace, invention and quality in attacking areas in what was an excellent individual performance in the Belgian's absence. But why can’t he do this more often? It is a question that will likely remain until he leaves the club.
Much of the admiration for the Brazilian stems from his displays in the 2015/16 season where he appeared to be the only Chelsea player who maintained anything like his best level in what was an abysmal defence of the league title.
Admittedly, in the Champions League, some of Willian’s set-piece prowess was exceptional. However, in the Premier League he scored a mere five goals all season, this in a campaign which he allegedly shone in. That total was only one more than Hazard, the player widely regarded as having gone missing for a season.
While that was somewhat true, it puts Willian’s form into some perspective too. Being the best player in a team which finishes 10th is not something to be admired if you’re playing for a club of Chelsea’s stature yet Willian is often lauded for it.
The following season in which Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side delivered a league title, Pedro was preferred to our no.22 for most of the campaign with Willian reduced to a bit-part role. There is a revisionism regarding Willian’s impact on two league-winning teams, when the reality is that he was ultimately a player on the periphery while the seasons in which he has been a shoo-in for selection resulted in poor performances.
For a player whose value is perpetuated by pundits weekly on Match of the Day, there is a gap in Willian’s offering to the team. Willian is, undoubtedly, a highly talented footballer with a skillset to match most.
However, for a player possessing some of the qualities that he does, he produces an underwhelming lack of goals, assists and generally decisive moments that take the breath away. I feel his contribution and importance to Chelsea is exaggerated as a result of the 2015/16 season where, as previously mentioned, he was the best of a bad bunch.
Willian is an excellent squad player, capable of performing to exceptional levels on occasion. However, he is not the calibre of performer who should ever be considered the linchpin in a top team’s aspirations. Having signed for Chelsea in 2013, his best game at Stamford Bridge still remains a match in which he tore Chelsea apart whilst playing for Shakhtar Donetsk in 2012.
He is a winger who is admired for his industry rather than his quality. He is a player who flatters to deceive more than anybody I can remember in a blue shirt. His skillset is undeniable, but there are too many question marks regarding his overall contribution for him to be thought of as anything more than an effective squad player.
Ultimately, I am of the view that his recognition is unwarranted and that Pedro should be the man to complement our brilliant Belgian in Chelsea's attack.