Chelsea

Chelsea must cash in on Willian while they still can

 • by Adam Newson
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With Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar ruled out for ten weeks with a recurrence of the metatarsal injury he suffered last year, the Ligue 1 leaders plan to do what they do best: spend money to solve a problem.

According to the Daily Mail, the Parisians believe Chelsea star Willian is the man to step into the world’s most expensive player’s shoes – something aided by him being eligible in the Champions League – and they are considering a £40million deadline day move.

Now 30 years old, the Brazilian was pursued by Barcelona in the summer but the Blues weren’t willing to sell, even though the La Liga leaders were ready to offer £50million.

“A lot of people, they say a lot of things, but I never said I wanted to leave Chelsea, never,” Willian explained earlier in the campaign. “I always say that I want to stay at Chelsea as long as possible and I am happy to stay here.”

Given the Blues’ stance in the summer and the fact they’d have little chance of signing a replacement – Maurizio Sarri is evidently not going to make Callum Hudson-Odoi a regular starter – it’s unlikely Willian will move to the French capital before the window closes.

Yet if PSG are ready to put the money is on the table, should Chelsea take it? The answer is almost certainly yes.

Willian is, no matter the perception among a large section of Blues supporters, a good player and the Brazil international is clearly popular in the dressing room, yet his contribution on the pitch has never been that of an elite player.

Since arriving from Anzhi Makhachkala in the summer of 2013, a transfer Chelsea hijacked from under the nose of Tottenham Hotspur, Willian has made 189 appearances in the Premier League and scored only 28 goals.

Of course, measuring a player on goals alone is not entirely fair, and Willian has claimed 29 assists in that time too. However, if you take out set pieces (free-kicks and penalties) then he has struck just 22 times from open play in the top flight in five-and-a-half seasons.

For context, in the same time period, Eden Hazard has netted 52 times from open play in the Premier League while Pedro, who arrived from Barcelona in 2015, has struck on 25 occasions.

The below graphic highlights Willian’s underlying numbers in the last three seasons. What is clear is that no matter the coach, he is consistent. It’s just that he isn’t doing a great deal to affect matches in open play.

Willian-Chelsea-comparison

This term his goal threat has diminished further – Hazard’s open-play xG per 90 stands at 0.24 while Pedro is registering 0.38 – while he is also no longer as effective when taking on defenders.

This is perhaps because Willian has never been a dribbler in the mould of Hazard; rather than trickery, he uses a burst of acceleration to nip past opponents.

Pace wanes with age, but it also loses its impact against a deep-lying defence, And that is what Chelsea under Sarri have often faced. If Willian does skip past a defender, there is usually another ready to halt his path.

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If Chelsea are to continue with Sarri, and there is obviously no guarantee that will happen, Willian, stylistically, isn’t a player who will ever thrive under the Italian.

And given his age and fairly mediocre body of work in recent seasons, the Blues should cash in if a significant offer is made, either this month or in the summer.

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