LONDON－Willian’s performance at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last weekend highlighted just why Frank Lampard is keen to see the Brazilian’s future at Chelsea resolved.
While much of the focus this season has been trained on the outstanding contribution of the youngsters in Blues manager Lampard’s squad, Willian’s performances on the right of a front three have been consistently excellent.
The attacking midfielder had lost his way a little in recent seasons, particularly last term when he struggled for consistency under Maurizio Sarri and appeared in danger of leaving the London club.
This campaign has been different, though, and Lampard will hope the player can inspire a return to home form when Southampton visits Stamford Bridge on Thursday following Chelsea’s impressive 2-0 defeat of Jose Mourinho’s Spurs.
Willian was certainly the standout performer in a display Lampard admitted was probably his side’s best of the season after a worrying run of form that had brought four defeats in the previous five Premier League games, included home losses to Bournemouth and West Ham.
There were always going to be frustrating periods for Lampard and his players in what is a season of transition for Chelsea, which is nevertheless now fourth in the Premier League.
The task of bedding in a number of academy graduates against the backdrop of the preseason transfer embargo has inevitably presented challenges.
Willian, though, has maintained impressively high levels, appearing rejuvenated under the club’s new manager.
Certainly Lampard appears to have found the key to drawing the best out of the 31-year-old whose work on the right has contributed to striker Tammy Abraham making such a significant impact in his breakthrough season at Chelsea.
Willian’s work ethic had been questioned previously, with his failure to track back and support the fullback highlighted last season.
This time around, there can be no doubt about his willingness to put in the hard yards.
The 31-year-old, who arrived at Chelsea from Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala for around $39 million in 2013, has strengthened his hand in his contract negotiations as he seeks a new deal that will keep him at the Bridge beyond the end of this season.
Willian’s existing deal runs out in May, along with those of fellow thirty-somethings Pedro and Olivier Giroud.
With Chelsea’s two-window transfer ban having been halved, leaving the club to bring in new recruits next month, Giroud is likely to leave in a bid to find the regular first-team minutes he believes will boost his chances of being selected for world champion France’s Euro 2020 squad.
Pedro has been reduced to a fringe player and is also expected to move on at the end of the season.
Willian, though, is a different matter and while Chelsea is notoriously reluctant to offer extended deals to players over the age of 30, the Brazilian could become an exception.
For his part, Lampard has made it clear he wants the South American to stay.
And while the manager has no intention of shifting his policy of promoting young players, he knows the value of experience.
“He’s a very important member of the club and of course I want it to be done but obviously both sides have to be happy for that,” said Lampard when asked last month about Willian’s future.
Meanwhile, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta faces a late fitness test for the Southampton game. The Spanish defender injured a hamstring in the win at Spurs.
Saints could be without striker Shane Long for the whole of the Christmas schedule because of a knee injury the Irishman sustained in last week’s win at Aston Villa.