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Willian has suddenly come out of the cold to become a key player for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea as they head into the most important month of their season.
After crashing home two goals in an outstanding display during the 4-0 win against Hull City in the FA Cup fifth round on Friday, the Brazilian produced an arguably even better performance against Barcelona on Tuesday in the Champions league, as he hit the post twice and scored in the 1-1 draw.
The speedy, skilful Brazilian has not always been a favourite of Conte’s. In fact When Chelsea won the title last year, Willian started only 15 league games. He was taken off in 13 of them and actually came off the bench 19 times.
Until Tuesday, this season had not been much better.
Willian had started 22 games, and come on as a substitute in 18. Too often, Willian has been hauled off by Conte when things have been going wrong, and there seems to have been an issue of trust between the two.
But maybe that situation is changing and with crucial games against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday and then Manchester City at the Etihad looming, the in-form Brazilian may just have become a key man in Chelsea’s battle for a top four place.
The hard-line Conte, though, warned the Brazilian that he wants this standard of performance now maintained and said: “Willian has the potential to play this type of game every match. I hope to see this type of performance for a long time. Against Hull he played a fantastic game. Against Barcelona too.
“When you play in this way, the coach doesn’t have doubts. You play.”
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, a fan of the Brazilian from his time in charge at Stamford Bridge, tried to tempt Willian away last summer, but was blocked by Conte.
Willian said: “Mourinho is my friend. I had a great time with him, but I am at Chelsea and he is now at United.
“Against United we can do a job. Against City, it will be like the game against Barcelona – they like to have the ball. We have to stay compact and use the same plan. We can win these games.
“They are both difficult games. But if we can stay at this level we can have another great game. We have to play in a similar way.
“But we won at Atletico Madrid this season in the Champions League. So we can go to the Nou Camp in three weeks time and do a great job again. It will be a completely different game. But if we go with the same mentality, we can go there with spirit and win.