A huge sigh of relief rung around Stamford Bridge on Saturday, as Chelsea huffed and puffed their way past a nitty-gritty Newcastle United side.
If not for two moments of mesmerizing football, Maurizio Sarri would have witnessed his side fall four points behind third-place side Tottenham Hotspur, also allowing Arsenal a sniff at the Champions League spots.
Pedro’s precious lob over Martin Dubravka started proceedings, only for the Magpies to steal a goal back before the half-time whistle.
With growing angst circling amongst the Chelsea faithful following an untidy performance, they bowed down to Willian the conqueror. The Brazilian bent a beautiful, curling effort into the corner of the net to give the Blues breathing space.
It was an approach and strike that has been on repeat in his six years at the club, shifting slightly onto his right boot and letting fly. However, these types of finishes have been vacant this campaign, Willian’s goal was his first in 17 appearances.
His statistics may leave some in doubt over his position, yet his contribution goes much deeper than his goals and assists. Having already in featured in a mammoth 31 games this term, it is evident Sarri has a soft spot for the frizzy-haired winger and what he provides to the squad. His trickery and guile going forward is one thing, but he also chips in with his defensive work which is so crucial to his manager’s philosophy.
If reports and rumours are to be believed, Spanish juggernauts Barcelona will bid £50 million for Chelsea’s number 22, which is an offer very few could refuse. It highlights how much the footballing powerhouses’ rate what Willian has demonstrated in his English tenure and would leave a sizeable hole in the Chelsea ranks.
At 30-years-old, he is more a seasoned starter than a spring chicken. A look into the Chelsea future comes in the form of Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi if the Blues can prize him away from Bayern Munich’s grasp. This inevitably spells more of a cameo role for Willian and the international star deserves more than that.
He has been a crucial cog in both the Blues’ most recent Premier League triumphs, vital in securing the FA Cup last term and had memorable performances in the Champions League, especially against the side attempting to steal his signature, Barcelona. Having been named as Chelsea’s Player of the Year on two occasions, Willian has more than proved his worth in London.
If he is to set sail for Spain, Willian’s free-kicks, trickery and wizardry will be sorely missed, particularly because his club are still involved in four competitions and his experience would be critical. Whatever the outcome, Willian will go down as a Chelsea cult hero.
By Nathaniel Kay