Influential Willian strengthens case to extend Chelsea career
Whatever the future holds for Willian, his Chelsea legacy is looking pretty safe thanks to his decision to stay for the rest of the season.
Despite winning two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and the Europa League during his seven seasons at Chelsea, Willian has divided opinion among fans.
But nobody will argue that the 31-year-old has been anything but brilliant since Chelsea restarted their season. His two assists at Selhurst Park, for Olivier Giroud and Christian Pulisic, plus a goal from substitute Tammy Abraham, helped to keep Chelsea on course for Champions League qualification. Chelsea almost shot themselves in the foot by twice letting Crystal Palace back in and then surviving two huge let-offs in stoppage time, but this felt like a big win.
“We might have been fortunate in the last five minutes, but we should have had the game under control by then,” said head coach Frank Lampard. “At 2-0 we were in control of the game and at 3-2 we had lots of chances to kill the game.”
Abraham’s goal was only his second since the turn of the year and Lampard added: “He is desperate for goals and he had not scored for a while. It’s good for his confidence.”
Willian could have left on June 30 and if he had done so, then the winger may well have departed with a cloud over his Chelsea career. But the way in which he has played since the restart has ensured he will either sign off in style or possibly win a new Chelsea contract beyond this campaign.
This is already Willian’s most productive season in terms of Premier League goals, with his tally of nine beating his previous best of eight in 2016/17. And it took him just six minutes at Selhurst Park to take his number of assists for the campaign to six, even though there was an element of good fortune for Chelsea. Former Chelsea captain Gary Cahill pulled up with a hamstring injury as he moved out to cover a Reece James pass down the right, leaving Willian to race clear.
The Brazilian took the ball to the byline and expertly cut it back for Giroud to score the easiest of goals.
Some Palace players complained that Chelsea had played on, but manager Roy Hodgson said: “I am realistic. For me to suggest they should have stopped playing, that’s not the way football is.”
Cahill had to go off, with Hodgson claiming he could now miss the rest of the season. Willian’s number of assists should have gone up to seven, but Kurt Zouma headed his perfectly delivered corner wide.
Willian was proving impossible to mark for the Palace defence, as he moved from the right to the left and, at times, lingered in the middle. In the 26th minute, he registered assist number seven by passing the ball to Pulisic, who smashed a brilliant shot past Vicente Guaita. Lampard had wanted more goals from his wide attacking players before the lockdown and since the restart Willian has scored four times and Pulisic three. “Willian and Christian are a big threat for us at the minute,” claimed a delighted Lampard. “They have had an impact on all the games and Willian deserves huge credit.” For as good as Willian and Pulisic have been since the restart, goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has struggled in almost equal measure. And there were questions asked of the Spaniard again, as Palace got themselves back into the match.
There is no debating that Wilfried Zaha’s 30-yard shot carried plenty of punch, but replays suggested Arrizabalaga should have got a hand to it. The goal gave Palace hope and they finished the first half well, with Joel Ward hitting the top of the bar and Christian Benteke heading at Arrizabalaga.
The visitors were fortunate that Jordan Ayew’s effort was deflected wide after they had failed to deal with a corner, and Lampard responded by sending on Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The change proved inspired, as Loftus
Cheek played the ball out to Abraham on the right side of the area and he scored with a goal that deflected in off the inside of a post.
With 19 minutes remaining that should have been game over and yet Chelsea let Palace back in, as Van Aanholt wriggled his way into the box and picked out Benteke to score from close range. The goal was only Benteke’s second of the season and his first at Selhurst Park since April 2018. The Belgian could well have snatched an equaliser as Palace twice went close; Scott Dann’s header was tipped on to the post by Arrizabalaga and then Zouma produced a brilliant tackle to stop Benteke from equalising.
0-1 1-3 0-2 Olivier Giroud side-foots Chelsea into an early lead, extended by a delighted Christian Pulisic. Wilfried Zaha pulls a goal back before half-time before substitute Tammy Abraham scores a much-needed goal to make it 3-1. Christian Benteke replies within a minute but Chelsea held on