They’ve been called capricious, unfaithful and unethical, but if there’s one thing Chelsea fans can claim to be is loyal to their own – and there are probably no figures in world football as close to the heart of Stamford Bridge as Jose Mourinho.
Despite the team’s terrible results of late – in case you don’t remember, Chelsea are now 15th in the Premier League – fans in the stadium have been predominantly expressing their support for the Portuguese manager. Despite a seemingly endless row of lackluster performances behind them, the bulk of the Blues’ fans seem convinced that the Special One is the right man to turn things around.
However, at the moment, even Mourinho seems to need a savior. On Wednesday, as The Blues clinched a late winner in their UEFA Champions League Group Stage match against Dynamo, the standing ovation at Stamford Bridge exalted just that man: Willian Borges Da Silva.
The Brazilian international has been on top form for Chelsea since his arrival in 2014, but his performances throughout this first half of the 2015-2016 season have been nothing short of extraordinary. Yes, his production stats have not been superior to those of the likes of Riyad Mahrez or Mesut Ozil, but he has single-handedly won matches for a side in dire need of inspiration. And that has been invaluable.
During Wednesday’s Champions League fixture, Chelsea were poor and devoid of ideas, and despite getting an early lead through an own-goal, they had fallen behind on the scoresheet after a horrible mistake by goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. But just when it looked like the Blues would have to settle for another draw, Willian secured the three points for his team with screamer from a free-kick to the top left corner.
It was a moment of pure magic. A precious one. Before Dynamo’s equalizer, Chelsea had been defending themselves, resigned to clinching with their teeth to their 1-0 lead – but after Willian’s goal, even though they were ahead again, the team looked revitalized and inspired to keep their offensive intensity vibrant.
One of the shortcomings that has marked Chelsea’s season has been the stiff drop in certain player’s individual levels: Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic have been horrendous, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas haven’t been good, Terry shows signs of decline and Oscar and Radamel Falcao have not been able to regain their best forms. Yet, Willian’s skillful antics and sharp form have been a constant source of both psychological and tangible boosts.
During the match against Dynamo, for instance, the Brazilian completed more dribbles (5), and delivered more accurate long balls (8) and accurate crosses (3) than any other outfield player. And that is only a small example of what he has been for Chelsea throughout the season.
Willian is Chelsea’s top goalscorer in the Champions League (3) and in all competitions (5). In addition, he is the player who has won the most fouls in both the Premier and Champions Leagues. And he has completed more dribbles in both competitions than any other player, with the exception of Hazard.
On Wednesday, after the match against Dynamo, Mourinho joined the fans in praising Willian and admitted to feeling relieved after his late goal.
“He’s playing very well, not just today. He has been playing well for a long time,” he told reporters.
“Everybody did their job very well. It is fair to look at Willian because of his work-rate, quality on the ball, participation in the first goal and quality of second goal,” added Mourinho.
As Chelsea look to salvage their season one thing will be key: getting wins immediately. That’s about way more than just adding points to their tally, it’s about motivating an exhausted and shallow squad to fit into different game plans, and about keeping the one manager that has finally earned the trust of the fans from being sacked.
But when a team is not playing well it is hard to get the victories – the eternal conundrum – unless a bit of irrational quality sips in every once in a while. And for that reason Willian’s form should continue to be key for the Blues.