Wednesday , 21 March 2018

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Champions League: Willian, the ever-present workhorse for Chelsea

Willian was the sole goalscorer for Chelsea on Tuesday night and the brightest spark for the home team against a sturdy and efficient Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 clash at Stamford Bridge.

Amidst a host of stars and a number of pitched up key players’ battles for the clash, Willian slipped in somewhere from the middle and made his mark.

While it was Eden Hazard who was touted as the big player for Chelsea, it was Willian’s sharpness, runs and battles that made Barcelona stutter the most. For quite some time now, Willian is known for his knack of those darting runs and sensational strikes and he showed that to the world once again.

Twice in the first half, Willian turned around and let go of his markers brilliantly to shoot at the Barcelona goal and both those times, he was denied by Ter Stegen’s post.

Where the big German couldn’t reach, his post kept him on. But Willian was not to be denied in the second half.

As they say, the Brazilian turned out to be the third time lucky and he drilled home into the right corner, the side that had denied him first.

Willian’s story on the night did not end there, he had another brilliant chance, one where he could have passed and set up another goal for Chelsea but he took a few extra seconds, the chance slipped away and he got hit on the face with the ball.

He bled incessantly for the next few minutes and the referee had to send him to the touchline thrice for getting treated but the sturdy Brazilian played till the end.

It was a moment of brilliance from Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, along with a costly mistake from Cesc Fabregas and Cesar Azpilicueta that gave Barcelona the crucial away goal.

Chelsea defence was solid throughout the night and kept Luis Suarez mostly shut. Even though Chelsea are traditionally known to be parking the bus, their last night’s performance was anything but that.

They took the game to their opponents, created a flurry of chances — unlucky or not accurate enough, Chelsea will have to show far more at Camp Nou in the second leg.

Barcelona’s home would be hostile, very very hostile and Chelsea would need the dodginess of their previous era to inflict upon Barcelona a defeat that would hurt them bad.

Chelsea have knocked Barcelona out twice in the knockout stages — most recently in the semi-final in 2012 when they won 1-0 at home before drawing 2-2 in Spain.

Chelsea’s man of the night knows that they would need that excellence away from home.

“It is still open and we have showed that we can compete and we will need another excellent performance at the Camp Nou to go through,” Willian said.

“You have to have a lot of personality to play against this team which has 70 percent of the ball. We have to go there to attack and score because 90 minutes defending at the Camp Nou is an eternity, it is a suicide mission. We have to play our game.”

Eden Hazard is thinking no different. Hazard plays best at No.10, a position that Antonio Conte must play him at if Hazard is to have the hazardous effect on the game. For Chelsea, it is important that Hazard turns up big time.

“At least we won’t be able to think defensively about the second leg because if we think defensively over there we would be in a lot of danger,” Hazard said.

“We will go there trying to win because we have to score and we will try to pull off the perfect game as we did today except for the small mistake that we made,” added the Belgian.

“It’s not over. We can still dream. Qualification is still possible.”

It is most definitely advantage Barcelona in the tie but Chelsea have never known what it is like to give up — it was that very will and tenacity that gave them the title in 2012.

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