What does Willian offer?

What does Willian offer?

Overnight, Willian appeared to have gained the attentions of English football. The rapid collapse of Anzhi Makhachkala’s future at the whims of Suleyman Kerimov triggered a scramble between Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea for the Brazilian despite him being relatively unheard of days earlier. But why? Other than it being fashionable, what do Chelsea have to gain from spending £30 million on a Brazilian attacking midfielder fond of dribbling and flicked through balls when they already have Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Victor Moses, Andre Schurrle and Kevin De Bruyne?

Although dribbling and flicks are the stereotypical practices of selfish, undisciplined wingers, there’s more to Willian’s play than that, even though he doesn’t do a whole lot else. He mainly uses his dribbling to draw players to him and create space for his teammates, forcing defenders into confronting him or risk him going past them, before laying the ball off for those teammates. There’s not really a whole lot to it, but many players don’t have the technical ability, or at least the confidence, to try.


It’s a basic play that can be seen in these examples:


Willian picks up the ball while one of his teammates (red, just off screen) is being kept an eye on by a defender (dark blue)
Willian dribbles to his right, drawing in opposition defenders and freeing up space for his teammate.
He chips a pass over the defenders that closed him down for his teammate to run onto


Willian gets the ball while one of his teammates is stuck next to two defenders
He drives in their direction, drawing them in and opening up space for his teammate to receive the ball


Willian picks up the ball on the left touchline
He dribbles inside, drawing defenders to him…
…then lays off the ball to his teammate with space in front of the defence

He’s a player unique in that he actually wants the opposition to press him and thrives off it. This should go some way to explaining why it only appeared to be Premier League teams interested in him, as, despite coming from the slower Russian league that’s closer in style to Serie A, he seems better-suited to a league whose players are encouraged to get in the opposition’s faces. Whether or not he will get the chance with so much competition is another matter.

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