Tottenham‘s dismal transfer window is going from bad to worse as they look set to lose out in their pursuit of Axel Witsel.
With Mousa Dembele looking for a move away from White Hart Lane, the Belgian international was identified as his replacement.
However, Marca report that Borussia Dortmund are closing in on a €20 million move from the Tianjin Quanjian player.
A clause in the midfielder’s contract stipulated that he would be allowed to leave the Chinese Super League club for that price and after 18 months in Asia, he is ready for a move back to Europe.
Yet reactions from the fan bases of all three clubs to the thought of signing Chelsea winger Willian have ranged from underwhelmed to dismayed. Not everyone thinks the Brazilian is the player their club needs to improve the side ahead of the start of the season.
The latest rumour regarding Willian had him off to Madrid, who were first allegedly considering a joint bid for him and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, and then “put on alert”, as the rumour mill likes to say, by his failure to show up for training. (It later transpired that the player is simply having passport issues, and Chelsea are aware).
But what is so special about Willian? He’s never quite set the Premier League alight in the five years since he joined from Anzhi Makhachkala. The manager who signed him for Chelsea in 2013 was Jose Mourinho, of course, and the Brazilian is the typical Mourinho winger, loved as much for his diligence in defence as his ability in attack. It comes as no surprise that Mourinho is targeting his former charge.
Yet the United faithful are alarmed by the possibility of another player being ahead of Anthony Martial in the pecking order, after the signing of Alexis Sanchez last season was credited both for Martial’s subsequent dip in form and for his desire to leave the club, with playing time becoming increasingly limited. The fact that bringing in Willian also increases the likelihood of Martial being sold doesn’t sit well with United fans.
It’s hard not to see their logic – Martial scored eight league goals to Willian’s six last season, and given that he played some 300 fewer minutes compared to the Brazilian, Willian’s advantage in assists (7 to 5) is negligible. Seemingly, the only reason Mourinho would prefer his former player to his current one is that Willian’s defensive work ethic is far superior to Martial’s.
However, there’s still plenty in the Brazilian’s favour. His average of 3 key passes per 90 minutes is more than any United player managed last season, and only Sanchez topped Willian’s per-90 mark of 3.2 dribbles.
6 - Willian completed six dribbles v Barcelona, the highest tally in a CL game v Barcelona this season: The last time a player had more v Barcelona in the CL was in 2006. Elusive.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) February 20, 2018
Beneath Willian’s workhorse reputation is a player brimming with attacking talent, which is why Mourinho would love to be reunited with a former favourite.
That combination could be the same reason Ernesto Valverde wants him at the Camp Nou, if those reports are to be believed. Given the weight of responsibility Lionel Messi bears in attack for the club, he’s allowed to take it lightly defensively – but although Valverde makes allowances for his star player, it still goes against his philosophy.
Other wingers, such as the young Ousmane Dembele and the newly-signed (and nearly as young) Malcom, are also not renowned for their work rate. The Barcelona manager might believe that at the very least, the two youngsters could learn from the Brazil star and develop that side of their game accordingly.
Meanwhile, only two Barcelona players, Messi and Dembele, had a better per-90 mark than Willian’s dribbling average, and not a single one topped his key passes number. For a club renowned for players with skill, vision, and passing range, Willian may actually be an upgrade on some of their current options.
Willian: Of the 53 players to attempt 10 or more dribbles, only Oghenekaro Etebo (94.1%) had a better dribble success rate than Willian (91.7%) at the 2018 World Cup— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) July 21, 2018
For more player stats -- https://t.co/DWaa2Dq183 pic.twitter.com/BjIcleKISQ
Incidentally, the same stats hold true for Real Madrid. Their fans are thirsting for a “Galactico” signing, and there’s no doubt that one who would fit the bill, Willian’s club teammate Eden Hazard, has better stats across the board. Landing the Brazilian would probably be viewed as getting the “lesser” Chelsea player.
But in Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui’s calculations, defensive work rate could then come to the fore again. Given Lopetegui’s preference for a swarming press when in defence, Willian can be trusted to put in the hard yards to make that strategy work, while Hazard’s reported interest in leaving Chelsea is based on a desire for less defensive responsibility, not more.
And in any case, Madrid have players in Isco and Marco Asensio who can do what Hazard does, but their closest comparison to Willian is Lucas Vazquez – and it’s hard to argue that the Brazilian isn’t an upgrade there.
Good but not great? Perhaps. But Willian’s blend of talent and work rate could be exactly what a top club needs.
Fulham‘s summer spending is set to continue with Alfie Mawson on the brink of joining from Swansea in a £15million deal, Press Association Sport understands.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s men have been active in the transfer market since they secured a Premier League return via the play-offs, bringing in Jean Michael Seri, Maxime Le Marchand, Fabri and Andre Schurrle.
Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic followed suit on Monday, returning to the club he became a cult hero on loan with last season in a deal worth an initial £22.5m.
Fulham are now set open their cheque book once again to bring in Mawson, with the Swansea defender understood to be undergoing a medical ahead of a £15m deal.
The move sees the 24-year-old return to his west London roots, with the defender coming through the ranks at Brentford before moving onto Barnsley and then Swansea in 2016.
Mawson has impressed across his two Premier League seasons to date, being named the Swans’ young player of the year in his maiden top-flight campaign.
Capped at England Under-21s level, the defender was called up by Gareth Southgate’s senior team for the first time in March but failed to make an appearance against Holland or Italy.