Chelsea’s £30m star proves he is relishing life without Eden Hazard – opinion

This article is part of Football FanCast’s In Numbers series, which takes a statistical look at performances, season-long form and reported transfer targets…

You will be hard pushed to see a crazier second half this season than the one that unfolded at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Four goals, two red cards and more VAR calls than you could shake a stick at equated to a thrilling night of Champions League football, which ended 4-4. Chelsea, who came back from 4-1 down to grab a point, may even be disappointed not to have won the game.

There is plenty of criticism to be aired about the defensive performance in the first half, but the final result means that there will be more than enough praise for Chelsea’s attack. Brazil international Willian played a big part in that.

The former Shakhtar Donetsk man continually made things difficult for Ajax, with him looking like the most dangerous player on the field in the first half at least as the Blues struggled to stay in contact with de Godenzonen. Whilst others may have come to the fore in the second half, the 31-year-old went about his business quietly and remained a menace.

It was unlike the winger not to have a shot at goal – he has averaged 2.1 in the league this term – but his dribbling was again on point. He beat his man three times out of the four occasions he attempted to do so.

Only Mateo Kovacic, Christian Pulisic and, of all people, Kurt Zouma managed more.

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The four chances he created was bettered by none of his teammates, whilst he landed the joint-most crosses as well. Also impressive were the amount of ground duels he prevailed in – eight out of ten, to be exact – and he also proved adept at winning fouls for his team, which he did on four occasions.

On a night where experience was needed more than youthful exuberance, Willian stepped up to the plate. It is another showing in a season where he is proving himself to be a valuable performer for the Blues.

When Eden Hazard left in the summer, many thought that Chelsea would struggle offensively. However, his departure appears to have seen an improvement in Willian, who the club signed in 2013 for £30m. All in all, his performances have been on the rise this term. In the Premier League, he has a WhoScored average rating of 7.2 compared to 7.06 last season, whilst he was recently nominated for the Player of the Month award in England’s top tier.

He has seen an increase in both his shots per game – 1.9 to 2.1 – and his dribbles per game – 1.6 to 1.2.

The Belgian international’s departure looks to have freed Willian up, and he seems to be enjoying his football again as he takes up the position of role model for some of the younger players.

With his contract ending next year, the Blues may want to get him signed to a new deal as soon as possible.

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