On a night when the limelight was turned firmly towards the world-class clash between Eden Hazard an Lionel Messi, a Chelsea player who is often maligned for lack of obvious productivity stole said attention.
This was certainly not the first time that Willian has done so, but it was perhaps the biggest stage on which he has, playing his usual game of tricks and quick-steps to inspire Chelsea to a great performance.
Willian finished the night with only one goal but had two amazing long-ranged efforts kept out by the width of Marc-André ter Stegen’s goalposts. He also completed the most take-ons against Barcelona of any player so far this season, highlighting his ability to carry the ball forward and drive the Chelsea (counter-)attack. It wasn’t a perfect performance — could've also had a couple assists had he made better decisions and executed a better pass at a couple crucial times — but he now has 9 goals in his last 15 starts (with 5 assists) in all competitions and that sort of form is hard to overlook (even if he hasn’t been a nailed-on starter outside of the first few weeks of Conte’s tenure at the club.
“They could enlarge the goal limits, right? I ended up hitting woodwork twice and God blessed me with the goal. [...] It is not easy to play against Barcelona, who like to have the ball. We wanted to go out with the win [yesterday], but due to our own mistake we suffered the goal.“
The 1-1 result in a first leg may be better than we had feared before the game, but afterwards, it feels like a missed opportunity instead.
Nevertheless, Willian has joined the rest of the players and coaches in proclaiming confidence ahead of the return leg at the Camp Nou in three weeks.
”Every player dreams about playing games like these, important and big ones. [Yesterday] was yet another good game that we had. They are a difficult team to face, they always keep the ball.”
”We stayed compact, tight, waiting for counters. I think that in chances created we were better, and could have gone out with a positive result. But surely they had more ball possession.”
”It was a good game, the team played well, we did what we had prepared throughout the week. I think the result remains open, as well. We have chances of going to Spain and have a great game.”
”I think it will be a different tale and match-up. It is completely different to play at Camp Nou. It is a big pitch, and they play at home.”
”But of course we are always confident that we can play a great game. So we are going there prepared to have a great game and get the [Champions League quarterfinals] spot.”
Prior to the match, Antonio Conte spoke about picking players based on form and ability to execute the specific gameplan chosen for Tuesday. Willian ticked both of those boxes and rewarded the coach’s faith with a Man of the Match performance. But with Pedro also having a good game, the two are likely to continue being mostly rotate for one another.
While not being a full-time starter has not affected Willian’s spot in the Brazilian national team for this summer’s World Cup, the 29-year-old would obviously love to play more. But whether as a starter or a key substitute — and he inevitably makes a substitute appearance almost every time he doesn’t start — he will look to impact the game by being the tenacious and talented warrior we all know him to be.
”There are no explanations [besides] it being an option from the coach. Sometimes we do not understand some things [but] I always looked to work.”
”Every time I got into the pitch I tried to do my best. In five, ten minutes or as a starter, I always seek playing at the best of my abilities. The choice always comes from the coach and we have to respect it.”
”Of course no player is happy to stay on the bench, as we want to play. But thankfully I have been developing and reaching higher levels [of play], which is what I wanted.”
”The answer needs to be given on the pitch. [Yesterday] was another day in which I was blessed. Unfortunately the win did not come, but personally speaking it was an important game for me.”
-Willian; Source: Globo Esporte
Tho lovely Willian was absolute;y brillian-t last night. More of the same please!
Solid work from these three today. Pedro and Willian worked tirelessly off the ball and Hazard - asked to do a thankless job - went about his business and, when given the chance, terrorized the Barca defense. They set the tone tonight. #CFC pic.twitter.com/zl7TNWspt3— Chelsea GIFs (@ChelseaGIFs) February 20, 2018
Willian might not have to wait too long to showcase his abilities once, with a fateful matchup against his old friend Jose Mourinho coming up on Sunday. That will be followed by another away trip. this time to league-leading Manchester City the following weekend, with the second leg to follow 10 days after that.
Chelsea will need to hit the same levels as last night to come out unscathed from those mathcups.
“[Mourinho] is my friend. I had a great time with him, but I am at Chelsea and he is now at Manchester Unite.”
“[Matches against Manchester United and City] are difficult games. It is totally different to play in the Premier League to the Champions League. I think we can stay at this level and we can go to Old Trafford on Sunday and play another great game.”
”We have to play in a similar way. Against Manchester United, I think we can do a great job.”
“Against Manchester City, it will be like the game against Barcelona - they like to have the ball. We have to stay compact and use the same plan as we used against Barcelona. We can win these games. We will go there to try to win.”
-Willian; Source: Goal.com
Another set of big games coming up. Just the perfect scenario for Willian to showcase his abilities once again.
G’wan, Willian the Brillian!