Brazilian international Willian is in scintillating form heading into Tuesday’s showdown against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge.
The former Shakhtar Donetsk winger scored a sensational brace in the Blues’ 4-0 victory over Hull City in the FA Cup fifth round. As well as being among the scorers, the twice Premier League champion grabbed himself an assist and came incredibly close to netting his first hat-trick for the club when he was denied by the woodwork.
Having been rested during Friday’s FA Cup tie, Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Pedro are all expected to return to the side. This, of course, would mean that Friday night’s Man of the Match would be benched.
Antonio Conte now faces two formational options: the 3-4-3 or the 3-5-2. Many have predicted the latter.
When applied earlier in the season, Cesc Fabregas, Tiémoué Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante have generally started. With Bakayoko injured, however, Danny Drinkwater will be favourite to start.
Based on recent form, Willian is more than deserving of a chance. A 3-5-2 seems the best option as Barcelona will dominate possession, as they always do. However, could Willian be a potential midfield option?
The 29-year-old has phenomenal ball carrying skills and at times is among the world’s best at retaining possession. Erneste Valverde is expected to prepare his side to press the Pensioners who have favoured the short kick-out under Conte. At times the champions have been dispossessed in the most nerve-wrecking of areas such as against Manchester City late last year.
The 3-5-2 worked wonders, however, against the very conservative Atletico Madrid. Diego Simeone’s men struggled throughout the 90 minutes to simply get the ball into the opposing half.
Due to Willian’s excellent ability to retain the ball, he could be the game-changer. Whilst under immense pressure from the Catalans’ pressing, panicky defenders such as Gary Cahill, can look to the Brazilian in confidence. Willian then has the pace and skill to immediately start an attack with both Morata and Hazard playing ahead of him.
With Fabregas also expected to start, Chelsea could look to exploit Sergi Roberto’s defensive flaws. With Willian potentially playing in a deep role to help the 2012 Champions League winners to play out from the back, Fabregas could find himself able to play a little higher up the pitch and could look to hit the killer passes that has made Conte draw comparisons with Italian legend, Andrea Pirlo.
Equally, Fabregas could play a deeper role, which would allow Chelsea to switch into a 3-4-3 where by Willian would play further up the pitch in an attempt to exploit the sometimes fragile Barcelona backline.
In the more likely event that Drinkwater was to be selected, Chelsea would undoubtedly lack a lot of attacking flare. Also, the Englishman is nowhere near as accomplished as Willian when it comes to simply keeping the football away from opponents. This could lead to a lot of panic and stress among the pressured Chelsea trio.
Despite many predicting that Drinkwater will play, Conte has admitted in recent weeks that he is aiming to exploit Barcelona’s lack of defensive astuteness. Surely Hazard and Morata are not expected to outplay four Barcelona defenders?
As defensively weak as they are, surely this would be a difficult feat for the the club’s leading goalscorers.
Who knows what the master tactician has in store for arguably the biggest match of his managerial career.
Will he play the more conservative style we have become accustomed to, or will he take a chance and go after the tournament favourites?
Chelsea fans will be hoping for the latter.