Count on Willian starting for Chelsea against PAOK FC in Thursday’s Europa league kickoff.
No, Maurizio Sarri hasn’t leaked his lineup. But Willian took the dais after Maurizio Sarri was done at the pre-match press conference, usually a sure sign that the player involved will be heavily involved in the action.
If it happens, it would only be his second start in Chelsea’s last four matches — the kind of playing time snub that eventually got his hackles up around Antonio Conte late last season.
But if Willian’s bothered, he’s doing a good job of hiding it. He’s all praise for the new gaffer.
“He wants us to play. You can see in the games the difference from last season. We play more, we have more possession, we enjoy, we have fun with responsibility. We win five games in a row so we have to continue the same way. I’m happy with the new manager, with the new profile of football. We have a great team atmosphere. We have great players. We can do everything this season to win titles.”
“Continue the same way” probably doesn’t mean Pedro starting two of Chelsea’s last three Premier League matches, as he has. Willian scored a spectacular goal and nabbed an assist in his 22 minutes against Cardiff and no doubt he hopes that he’s won Sarri’s attention, despite Pedro’s excellent play.
Still, there’s no getting around the ugliness (and insubordination) of last season, as much as it ended up getting swept under the carpet. When Chelsea won the FA Cup at the end of last season, Willian covered up his manager in the celebratory photo posted to social media, then spent much of the summer linked with moves to Manchester United and Barcelona. He would later deny ever wanting to leave the club, but also made it clear that he would not want to play under Conte again.
Naturally, this topic came up again on Wednesday, but Willian insists that it’s in the past.
“I‘m very proud to stay and to be a Chelsea player. It’s an honour to play for this club. I’m very happy at Chelsea. Everyone knows what happened in the last transfer window but my mind was always at Chelsea. It was always to play for Chelsea. Now with Sarri we have a different way to play football so we just want to enjoy and continue to play for this club.”
There’s a long season ahead. Sarri seems to be closing in on his preferred XI and it may not include Willian — though just as under Conte, when Willian led the team in appearances, he’s usually among the first substitutes, either on or off. So we’ll have to revisit this positive attitude in a few months.
In the meantime, there’s a match to be played and won, and that’s where Willian is putting his focus.
“It will be a difficult game. I’m sure that we will play against a good team. They have players of quality and it will be a difficult game for us. We have to be ready. We want to start well, we want to start with three points.”
-Willian; source: Evening Standard
Yes, yes we do. (HA-HA, Man City!)