In­flu­en­tial Wil­lian strength­ens case to ex­tend Chelsea ca­reer

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - By Matt Law

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

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