Football

Willian is Chelsea’s main man ahead of Barca showdown

Having spent much of his time at Chelsea operating in Eden Hazard's shadow, Willian has emerged as a leading light in the team ahead of their Champions League last-16, second-leg showdown with Barcelona on Thursday morning (Singapore time).

The La Liga leaders are well aware of Willian's talent. The Brazil international shone in the first leg at Stamford Bridge when his brilliance deserved more than his solitary goal in the 1-1 draw.

Two super strikes came out off the post, he created four chances for team mates and constantly put the opposition on the back foot with his penetrative dribbling.

Willian's goalscoring form continued in Chelsea's next match at Manchester United and the Brazilian made it 13 for the season in all competitions - a career-best - in Chelsea's 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace yesterday morning.

"Do you want to talk about Willian? Top, cream of the crop, he's amazing," United manager Jose Mourinho said after his side's win over Chelsea two weeks ago.

MOTHERS' DEATH

Willian hasn't always been in form that garnered praise from opposition managers.

After being granted compassionate leave following the death of his mother in October, 2016, Willian struggled to remain an automatic first choice at Chelsea.

Of his 29 English Premier League appearances this season, 13 have been off the bench, but the form he has shown recently has ensured he is at the forefront of manager Antonio Conte's thoughts.

"You can see that if a player stays in great form, I'm the first to pick him in the starting XI," Conte said.

"Willian is playing in a fantastic way, but I want to underline, not only with the ball, also without the ball. He's working very hard and he's helping the team without the ball.

"He's showing great maturity at this point of his career."

"You just can't leave Willian out of the team," former Chelsea striker Chris Sutton told BT Sport after Chelsea's win over Palace.

"He has great ball retention, drives with the ball so well. If it is him or Pedro against Barcelona, the answer has to be Willian."

That threat on the ball could help Chelsea produce a shock turnaround in the second leg at the Nou Camp.

Against United and Palace, Willian completed eight dribbles in each match, having not completed over seven in any other EPL game this season.

Such a stat indicates the Brazilian is confident enough to take the game to Barcelona and try to put them on the back foot.

If he can find an end product to his penetrative runs and earn a little more luck than he got at Stamford Bridge in the first leg, Willian could help Chelsea spring a surprise. -REUTERS

Football