Willian: Chelsea's shining light in a season of darkness
In what's been an absolutely horrific start to the 2015/16 season from the defending champions, there's been little to cheer about for Chelsea's supporters. Positives have indeed been hard to find.
One man, however, deserves special praise for the way he's knuckled down and gone about his work with unyielding desire and determination. That man, of course, is Willian.
The Brazilian has been nothing short of brilliant this campaign. Despite Jose Mourinho's side's dreadful form and disastrous set of results, Willian's fighting spirit and leadership has been a real upside for the Blues.
Freedom to roam
Predominantly deployed on the right by Mourinho, Willian's versatility and flexibility has meant it hasn't been uncommon to see him pop up on the left or even play as a number 10, like he did vs. Bournemouth on the weekend in the second half. His ability to adapt to different roles within matches has seen him able to interchange seamlessly with his teammates across the Chelsea frontline and inflict plenty of headaches for defenders all over.
Willian's many successful take-ons against the Cherries last weekend
Willian really is an absolute nightmare for defenders to come up against, for he never stands still, thus ensuring his adversaries never get a chance to settle into a rythmn when marking him. No matter how hard his opposition have tried to devise plans to stop him, once out on the pitch, he's just such an elusive proposition.
Many have tried to nullify him, but more often than not, they've come up short, as his multifaceted skillset, outstanding stamina and his aforementioned flexibility have seen him dismantle the many challenges that he's been confronted with.
To further elaborate on his movement, although his tireless work-rate is a key factor in his ability to find space in the attacking third, where his persistent vertical and lateral buzzing always sees him search to supply his teammates with an outlet, the subtlety attached to his work here is equally important.
Array of talents
Willian's quick processing and unpacking of moves before they unfold allow him to anticipate where best to position himself in relation to his colleagues and the opposition. This is well documented when he drifts infield to take up positions in between the opposing team's defensive and midfield lines to exploit the tiny openings which can be so fruitful in unlocking defences.
Upon receiving possession in such areas, he can then use his underrated passing game, which consists of a delightful range of flicks and one touch lay-offs, to set up teammates with his precise, intricate deliveries.
The Brazilian's dribbling, scoring and creativity were in full effect against Maccabi Tel Aviv last month
Moreover, occupying such dangerous zones allows him to coalesce with the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas within close proximity, something that greatly assists his side in their quest to carve out meaningful goalscoring opportunities.
Furthermore, whenever Chelsea have a goal kick, a regular tactic of theirs is to hit up the towering Branislav Ivanovic and hope that he can propel the ball forward with flick-ons. Willian's reading of the play in such instances is a joy to watch. However simple this may look, his little darts to get away from his marker and manoeuvre himself into the perfect location to inherit possession is testament to his vast footballing intellect.
Blessed with physical and technical gifts, whenever defenders have attempted to impose themselves physically upon him, his strength and low centre of gravity has meant he's extremely challenging to outmuscle. Moreover, his frighteningly sharp ball control, trickery and wicked changes of pace and direction allow him to wriggle free from the vast majority of troublesome situations he's confronted with.
It's fascinating to watch him with his man on his hammer, as one moment his marker thinks they've got him covered, and then in an instant he's masterfully jinked away.
One aspect of his armoury that simply can't go without being mentioned is his superlative free-kick taking ability. Willian's pinpoint accuracy from dead ball situations has kept his side alive in many games this term. Remarkably, he's already netted six times from direct free-kicks, with four coming in the Champions League.
Those four strikes in Europe have seen him equal the great Juninho Pernambucano's record, who also scored four in the 2005/06 campaign during his stint with Lyon.
His countryman was overjoyed at Willian's splendid achievement, saying: "It's good it's a Brazilian, and from this new generation of good players we have."
"It is very gratifying for me because when I scored these four goals, no one said anything.
"I'm being remembered by what Willian has achieved, and I think he has everything to beat the record."
Juninho then proceeded to explain that he believes Willian is just behind Neymar in quality. Quite lavish praise indeed considering what a special player the Barcelona superstar is.
Gary Cahill, when speaking recently, was also quick to acknowledge how outstanding Willian's been to date.
"From the start of the season he has been fantastic. He’s taken it up to another level," he said. "When he gets a free-kick anywhere around that 18-yard box you get the feeling there is going to be a goal now. I said that to him after the goal.
"We see him in training practising them and it’s not luck, he works hard on them."
While he's justifiably drawn the plaudits for his sublime free kick taking, the former Anzhi and Shakhtar star's about so much more.
On top of all his attacking talents and guile, defensively, he always put in an exemplary shift. He'll track back vigorously to help his full-back, press with purpose and intensity and is never afraid to fly into a tackle if required.
Put simply, his all-round contribution has been utterly immense this season. There's absolutely no way anyone could blame the 27-year-old for the current predicament Mourinho's men find themselves in; he's given his all every time he's stepped out on the pitch.
An example of both the attacking and defensive effect that Willian has - showing his successful tackles and attacking play against Aston Villa recently
After his vital, but often unheralded, role in Chelsea's title winning campaign, it's marvellous to see him finally receiving some richly deserved credit.
It's little wonder why Willian's ensured he's the first name on Mourinho's team sheet, for he parlays power, finesse, creativity and an unyielding appetite for hard work unbelievably well.
Willian certainly hasn't been a passenger this season, he's set a sterling example of how best to go about getting his team out of their uninspiring rut. Now it's time his teammates all followed his lead.