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24 Jul 2018

Barcelona: How the Blaugrana can use Chelsea's Willian

Barcelona: How the Blaugrana can use Chelsea's
Willian

Barcelona are still heavily linked with Chelsea's Willian, so how might he fit into Ernesto Valverde's team?

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Negating a weakness

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Dembele doubts

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A variety of options

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"A second to fall in love..."

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Barcelona's pursuit of Willian has been a protracted one, but, eventually, it appears they will get their man. Chelsea have rejected bids in the region of £55 million and may demand a fee of £70 million for the Brazilian.

Whether it will all be worth it remains to be seen. Clearly, though, Valverde is an admirer of Willian. 

"He is a very dangerous player," he admitted last season when Barcelona met Chelsea in the Champions League. Willian scored in the first leg at Stamford Bridge and hit the post twice, proving to be a constant threat.

Negating a weakness

Barcelona's persistence in their pursuit of Willian would suggest Valverde has identified a weakness in his side. He regularly fielded a 4-4-2 last season in which Paulinho often lined up on the right. 

That particular Brazilian is gone now - back to China and Guangzhou Evergrande - and it appears Valverde seeks another in his place.

REUTERS/Toru Hanai

The 4-4-2 system was a narrow one: Andres Iniesta, when playing on the left, tucked inside, and so too did Paulinho on the right. And when Philippe Coutinho arrived his natural tendency to drift in from the left meant more of the same.

Willian has likely been identified to provide more width, more directness, in Barcelona's midfield.

Dembele doubts

His potential arrival, however, raises questions over Ousmane Dembele. The youngster's season - having joined Barcelona for £135.5 million last summer - was disrupted by injury.

But when he was given an opportunity there appeared to be a lack of confidence and it was not clear whether Valverde trusted him to perform in his preferred system.

Dembele is just 21, though, and improvement is inevitable. Willian, meanwhile, is 30 - a far more experienced player who should slot in relatively seamlessly.

A variety of options

Willian's arrival would also be good news for Coutinho. Both have played together on numerous occasions for Brazil - including five times at this summer's World Cup - so they will be familiar with each other's game. 

That understanding, their ability to link up in the final third, will be a mouth-watering prospect for Barcelona fans.

Willian could play on the right of a 4-3-3

Perhaps signed to play on the left flank, Barcelona's failure to capture any of their midfield targets means Coutinho will likely play a deeper role to compensate for the losses of Iniesta and Paulinho, with ambipedal Dembele on the left and Willian on the right, with Lionel Messi through the middle. Or Messi right, Dembele/Willian left and Luiz Suarez up front.

Willian could also play on the right of a 4-2-3-1, but playing Luis Suarez leaves no room for Ousmane Dembele.

Valverde will be attracted to Willian's versatility, too. He is capable of fitting comfortably into the other systems preferred by the Blaugrana coach: a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1. It should not be a problem if he is asked to fill a variety of attacking roles.

"A second to fall in love..."

It is not coincidental that Barcelona are attempting to sign the Chelsea player who performed so brilliantly against them last season. Valverde was enamoured after that game, and not just by his technical qualities. Willian's willingness to track back, to defend without complaint, set Valverde's heart racing.

Valverde, as was evident last season, places great importance on team work ethic. Willian, for the most part, is a player without ego, without conceit, and for that he has earned Valverde's admiration. 

"They say our brains take a second to fall in love," wrote Sport in their analysis of the seemingly imminent Willian transfer. "In reality, Ernesto Valverde needed a little more time to fall for Willian. It took exactly 180 minutes. Or, in other words, the Champions League tie between Barcelona and Chelsea."

Soon, it could be reacquainted love.