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Talking Tactics

Willian's wisdom can inspire Fulham against Chelsea

Adrian Clarke 12 Jan 2023
Willian, Fulham

Adrian Clarke says the Brazilian midfielder is using his experience to revive his career in the Premier League

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 19.

Willian (FUL)

In-form Fulham will be hoping Willian’s quality in the final third can tip the balance in their favour as they target a first win over Chelsea since March 2006.

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Chelsea arrive at Craven Cottage in poor form, with a run of four defeats in their last six Premier League matches leaving them 10th in the table.

By contrast, Fulham head into the derby on the back of three consecutive wins, sitting seventh, three points ahead of their visitors.

Premier League

Pos Team Pl GD Pts
5 NEW 26 +20 47
6 LIV 26 +18 42
7 BHA 25 +15 42
8 BRE 27 +9 42
9 FUL 27 +1 39
10 CHE 27 +1 38
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But the Cottagers' top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic is suspended, missing Thursday's match, which puts the experienced Willian firmly in the spotlight.

Facing Chelsea for the first time since leaving Stamford Bridge in 2020, there will an added onus on him to deliver a telling performance.

Influential role

Willian has put a frustrating spell at Arsenal firmly behind him this season, shining for Fulham.

While he no longer has an explosive burst of pace and is unlikely to score as many goals as he once did, he has used his footballing brain and classy right foot to good effect in 2022/23.

Willian likes to drift in from the left flank to free up space for left-back Antonee Robinson, and has consistently delivered key passes.

Fulham open-chances chances created
2022/23 Chances/90
Willian 1.5
Neeskens Kebano 1.3
Harrison Reed 1.1
Andreas Pereira 0.9
Aleksandar Mitrovic 0.9

The Brazilian has been Fulham’s most creative player in open play this term, carving out 1.5 opportunities for team-mates per 90 minutes.

A tally of two assists does not reflect his influence, but he conjured a delightful chipped pass for Mitrovic’s winning goal in their last Premier League match, a 1-0 win at Leicester City.

Willian's assist v Leicester

Marco Silva’s Fulham have been a sparkling attacking force this season.

They have scored in 16 of their 18 matches, and against every team currently outside of the bottom three, so they should feel confident of breaching Chelsea’s fragile defence.

The loss of Mitrovic is a blow, but Willian will test opponents with his positive passing.

His calmness around the box helps Fulham to pin teams back and enjoy more periods of sustained pressure. 

No player outside of the "big six" clubs is completing more successful passes that end up inside the final third.

Successful passes ending in final third*
Fulham Passes/90 Players outside 'big six' Passes/90
Willian 15.5 Willian 15.5
Robinson 9.3 Rice 15.4
Kebano 9.1 Almiron 15.2
Reed 8.3 Gross 14.3
Pereira 8.1 Caicedo 14.2 

*Minimum 8 starts

Willian’s line-breaking quality could be a key factor against Chelsea.

He will have his eye on releasing Robinson on overlaps behind the Blues' defence, while also looking for anyone who makes a run into the box.

This is not a fixture Fulham have enjoyed – they have won just once in 30 attempts in the Premier League – but even without Mitrovic they have individuals who can hurt their illustrious visitors.

Willian certainly falls into that category, having been rejuvenated by his status as a key man for Fulham.

Also in this series

Part 2: Gnonto's direct approach can trouble Villa
Part 3: Rashford form gives United shot at derby success
Part 4: Kane heads for 200 PL goals with Arsenal in his sights

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