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In Focus: Fulham star Willian has made Craven Cottage his home
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Cian Cheesbrough
Willian is enjoying an exceptional campaign with Fulham
Willian is enjoying an exceptional campaign with Fulham

Fulham’s shock push for Europe this season is even more surprising given that Brazilian veteran Willian is leading their charge.

Many had thought the 34-year-old’s Premier League career was over when he left Arsenal for Corinthians in 2021 but he has been in superb form since returning to England with the Cottagers.

Ahead of the FA Cup clash with Leeds at Craven Cottage tonight, we turn the spotlight on the former Chelsea winger’s impressive campaign so far.

Point to prove

Though well remembered for his seven-year spell at Stamford Bridge, Willian’s poor 2020-21 season with Arsenal meant his time in England had threatened to end on a sour note.

The tricky winger signed a bumper three-year contract at the Emirates ahead of Mikel Arteta’s first full campaign in charge but left 12 months later after scoring just once in 25 league appearances.

It was a similar story during his time back in Brazil with Corinthians, with the forward ripping up his contract in August after revealing he and his family had received threats online due to his poor form.

Having sealed his return to the English capital with promoted Fulham on deadline day, aims were firmly set on restoring his reputation.

New lease of life

Willian has been a vital part of high-flying Fulham's attack this term
Willian has been a vital part of high-flying Fulham's attack this term

That is exactly what he has done, with the Sao Paulo native rolling back the years with his superb performances in West London this term.

The 70-cap international has scored three times in 18 top-flight games, which is astonishingly more than he managed in 60 outings across his previous two seasons with Arsenal and Corinthians. 

Scoring his first goal away at Leeds in October, Willian brilliantly netted the opener against former side Chelsea in January before a sumptuous finish versus Nottingham Forest last month showcased his penchant for the spectacular.

The turn of pace and skill that saw him become one of the top-flight's best attackers with the Blues does not seem to have left him, either.

The 34-year-old has completed 22 take-ons this term — more than any other player for the sixth-placed outfit.

Only Andreas Pereira has created more than his 28 chances, which is impressive considering he did not play his first game until Matchday 6 of the top-flight season. 

Silva surfer

Willian has started 16 of the 18 Premier League games he has been available to Marco Silva since his September switch, outlining his strong relationship with the Portuguese coach.

The Cottagers boss said of his No20’s excellent form: "He [Willian] is a top-class player and great guy.

"He works hard and plays with a smile on his face. He enjoys playing for us and he wants more. He also has the confidence to show the quality that he has all the time.

"If I even had doubts I would not have signed him. He is a class player and has made great connections with his team-mates. 

"You can see his quality week in, week out. It worked out really well for Willian."

More to come

Willian has scored three times this season, including against former club Chelsea
Willian has scored three times this season, including against former club Chelsea

Despite only signing a one-year deal with the Cottagers last summer, Willian now looks more than capable of impressing in the top flight for a few more years to come.

The Selecao star has said that while discussions over a new contract at Craven Cottage have not yet taken place, he feels his Premier League journey will not end at the end of the current campaign.

Willian told the Evening Standard: "I’ve not yet had a conversation about staying one more year or whether to sign a new contract but I really enjoy my moment here. I enjoy being here, I feel happy and let’s see at the end of the season.

"I will do the maximum I can in the best possible way to stay at the top level until maybe 37 or 38. I feel good now and I feel I can carry on for many years. 

"I think people like me, Thiago [Silva] and Azpi [Cesar Azpilicueta] show the next generation that it is possible to have a longer career."

Pushing for success

After suffering immediate relegations in their previous two Premier League campaigns, Fulham extraordinarily find themselves only six points off a top-four place after 25 games played.

They can also reach the FA Cup quarter-final for the first time in 13 years by overcoming Leeds at home in the fifth round tonight.

And though Fulham’s season will already be branded a success regardless of what happens between now and the end of the campaign, Willian has sights set on achieving something special.

He added: "I believe we can do something great this season. We have to believe in it as a team."

If the Cottagers are to keep fighting for Europe and a first-ever major trophy this term, it will likely be because the Brazilian continues his sensational resurgence.


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