willian analysis

Willian Borges – The Manager’s Player

Having won 2 Premier Leagues, a Europa League title, Carling Cup, and an FA Cup to his name; you’d think someone like Willian would be more appreciated by Chelsea fan for the player he’s been for them over the years. Yet despite scoring crucial goals, and being a consistent in the lineup under several managers, the Brazilian divides opinions.

On one side he’s constantly lambasted for his poor numbers in the league and being indecisive in key moments during games. On the other hand, he’s played a huge part in at least one league title win, being consistently featured and admired by a number of managers.

With teams like Barcelona being linked to his signature, we ask ourselves, what is Willian Borges. Let’s see if we can get the answer.

Understanding Willian

To get to the bottom of why Willian is such a perplexed player, we have to look at what he does well and what he doesn’t. Throughout his career for Chelsea he’s been a flexible wide player who’s capable of playing in multiple systems for multiple coaches easily.

The UnderStat radar shows that throughout his Chelsea career Willian has been a reliable creator from every position and system. The key passes metric is especially telling, as he’s averaged 2.66 Key Passes per 90 from wide areas which come really handy with Chelsea creating the bulk of their chances out wide.

One of the key aspects you take from Willian is his ability to contribute to the second phase of build-up. He’s very assured in possession and due to that, Willian can drive his team forward. He rarely if ever loses the ball in careless positions, which is a huge help if you’re playing as your side’s main counter-attacking threat, as shown below by the statistical dashboard provided by Mark Carey (@MarkCarey93)

Progressive Distance Carried per 90 (Willian)
Progressive Distance Carried per 90 (Willian)

From the above statistical model, you can clearly see Willian is adept at being a great ball carrier out of the entire Chelsea squad (surprisingly Kovacic too). Most wide players aren’t this secure in the possession and this direct in nature, the combination of which is really hard to find for the manager.

It allows coaches to play the Brazilian in different roles of both as a midfielder and a forward depending on the game plan of the manager. Not only that, his ability to fashion shots for himself and his teammates through dribbling and passes, is a plus.

Willian Shot Creating Actions

He also has the most final third entries in the penalty area and has effectively operated as Chelsea’s chief chance creator from out wide. The perception that just because Willian plays out wide so he should be contributing to more goals and assists is flawed and allows for easy scape goat-ing. Even Eden Hazard hailed Willian as an influence during their time together at Chelsea.

eden hazard on willian
Eden Hazard praises Willian

What most fans have an issue with is Willian’s striking lack of goal threat. He has not always been one for numbers. His 37 Goals in 231 appearances at the time of writing is not something to brag about and it limits his influence in the eyes of many.

willian stats non penalty goals xg
Willian’s non Penalty xG/90

Excluding penalties, Willian has a goal xG of 0.14 which is less than Chelsea’s LB Marcos Alonso. It’s all about the perception that fans have of certain players which influences their bias. To understand Willian, we have to let go of those biases and accept him for who he is.

Throughout his entire career, Willian has always been the secondary creator to a pure out and out goal scorer. His numbers have consistently proved it, yet he’s always been ever-present in this Chelsea side with managers impressed with his attitude and his willingness to adapt to tactical tinkering (Conte withstanding).

Willian’s Impact

Chelsea have given Willian the license to drive from out to in and in to out depending on the opposition. He’s comfortable with the ball at his feet and comfortable without it so it makes him easier to adjust on either wing. The Brazilian starts off in the half spaces on whichever wing he plays, and has two responsibilities.

  • Drive into the heart of the opposition defence with his dribbling ability to create space.
  • Attract opposition defenders for overloads
Willian Position on the Pitch
Willian Position on the Pitch

The Chelsea winger has Reece James/Azpilicueta for support on his right and with a targetman like Abraham/Giroud/Costa to play off, he can easily drive into the penalty box himself with nimble feet. With him being comfortable on either foot, the switch of play is always on.

What’s mostly eye catching about Willian is his defensive actions. He’s not afraid to work for his team and is willing to put the shift in to help Chelsea when they get overrun in midfield.

Courtesy of FBref, we can showcase this willingness below:

Tackles Attempted and Won100/80
Tackles in Defensive third11
Tackles in Middle third21
Pressing an Opponent per 9017.9
Blocks per 900.73
Willian Defensive Actions (19/20)

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The ability to be defensive switched on while simultaneously being an attacking threat is what makes Willian a player any manager would love to have. It’s why Barcelona were interested in securing his services and why Lampard wants him to extend and stay with the club.

With his last big and final contract coming up, the Brazilian will obviously be looking for gametime and hopefully be held in the same regard with the fans like he is by the countless managers he’s worked with.

Whether he leaves or stays, Chelsea fans should celebrate Willian’s contribution to their history and not want him to become a player he never was.