The team comes first. Willian has always subscribed to that view; his renowned work-rate proves as much. So, the Brazilian will be delighted that, first and foremost, his sensational showing in Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Qarabag sealed Chelsea’s place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
However, Willian’s performance – in his 200th outing for the Blues – may have also earned him a place in the starting line-up for Saturday’s crunch Premier League clash with Liverpool. Such a scenario appeared unlikely before kick-off.
Willian 3/1 to score v Liverpool
Willian has been poor this season and he was starting to become a target of his side’s fan base after managing just one goal and two assists in his 17 previous appearances in all competitions.
After a summer of uncertainty in which he seemed open to the idea of being reunited with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford, Willian appeared to have lost his way.
However, he made a timely return to centre stage in Baku. Indeed, Willian was involved in all four goals as Chelsea swept 10-man Qarabag aside.
Antonio Conte described the game as the most important game of the season so far but the ease of the win allowed the Italian to promptly turn his attention to the weekend trip to Anfield, which was a most welcome bonus, given Liverpool had already been given the benefit an additional 24 hours to prepare for the match on Merseyside.
Chelsea had Willian to thank for making light work of potentially arduous assignment. He combined brilliantly with Eden Hazard to end the game as a meaningful after 21 minutes.
The 29-year-old won a penalty that resulted in a red card for Qarabag captain Rasad Sadiqov before being coolly converted by Hazard, who, in doing so, became the highest-scoring Belgian in Champions League history, with eight goals.
Hazard returned the favour by assisting Willian for a stunning second goal that displayed the duo’s vision and speed of thought, as they carved open the underdogs.
Willian then won a second penalty in similar circumstances, after his shirt was again pulled following another surge into the area, thus allowing Cesc Fabregas the chance to get on the scoresheet.
The former Shakhtar Donetsk ace then concluded the scoring with a fierce long-range strike to net his 34th goal for Chelsea, thus putting the perfect seal on a thrilling performance that should help him rediscover his very best form. In fact, it was his 16th goal in 61 career Champions League appearances, displaying his love affair with European competition.
Many will hope that this is a rebirth for Willian. He scored 12 goals last season, playing a key role in Chelsea’s Premier League title triumph, as well as their run to the FA Cup final, and that was no mean feat given his personal plight.
Willian lost his mother last October and it understandably affected his form. He was replaced in the starting line-up by Pedro and although he remains a permanent fixture in Tite’s Brazil squads, he faces a constant battle for his shirt with Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.
In London, it has proven even more difficult to secure regular game time and his future was starting to come under the microscope, with talk of a move to AC Milan in recent weeks – despite the fact that Willian has repeatedly stated that he is happy in West London.
All the while, Hazard has been raising the bar at Chelsea. He has bagged six goals in his last seven appearances, three in five Champions League appearances and he matched Eidur Gudjohnsen’s 78 goals for Chelsea in all competitions on Wednesday night.
So, while it may have only been a 10-man Qarabag side, Willian needed a night like this to remind everyone at Chelsea of his worth.