Why Willian Must Be Handed a World Cup Starting Spot for Brazil

Christopher AtkinsContributor IMay 28, 2014

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 05: Willian of Brazil, Anele Ngcongca and Siyanda Xulu during the International Friendly match between South Africa and Brazil at FNB Stadium on March 05, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

The debate as to who should start for Brazil at the World Cup this summer has been relatively subdued. Thus far, everything has gone to plan over the course of Luiz Felipe Scolari's 18-month spell at the helm of the national side, and the team remains relatively settled.

When the former Chelsea and Palmeiras manager named his 23-man squad for the World Cup, there were mutterings of discontent from advocates of Atletico Madrid duo Filipe Luis and Miranda, as well as those who back veterans Ronaldinho, Robinho and Kaka. To those who have watched the side develop, though, there were few surprises in the selection.

International management is very different to taking the reins at a club, and with successes in previous spells with both Brazil and Portugal, it is fair to say Scolari's record as an international head coach is highly impressive. He builds trust among a group of players who perform for his side and then backs them when their club form may falter. Invariably, his trust brings out the best in his squad.

What it can mean, though, is that it is difficult for deserving candidates to force their way into contention. Over the past 12 months, a wider group has been tested, but only a select few have earned regular squad places. Among those are successful Premier League standouts Fernandinho and Willian, both veterans of Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.

Both are perhaps still in contention for the only unconfirmed berths in the starting lineup. Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho are most likely to start in midfield, but there is an opportunity for Fernandinho to impress in upcoming friendlies.

More likely to make a late indentation in the starting XI is Willian, who can perhaps capitalise on Hulk's inability to consistently impress in a Brazil shirt. The Zenit man is useful in terms of maintaining width on the right and offering a direct, powerful threat.

Willian, though, has many appealing qualities to a man of Scolari's mindset.

What the Corinthians academy product offers is a rounded presence in attacking midfield. He is both a threat in front of goal, a direct runner and a hard-working defender.

In conduction with Oscar in the centre, he allows his side to press opponents from the front. When under pressure, he has also been prepared to drop back and act as almost a second full-back at club level.

StatsBomb analyst Ted Knutson had the following to say on the Brazilian's contribution with Chelsea this season:

Much like Hazard, the assists (0.11 per 90 mins) lag severely behind the key pass figure (3.49), where he was second in the league, just a snip behind David Silva, and better than Ozil, Nasri, Eriksen, etc. Very impressive stuff, as is his defensive output of 3.38 Interceptions + Tackles per 90. The only guy that’s even close among the top 10 KP guys is Phillipe Coutinho, and he’s completing 1 entire KP per 90 fewer than Willian. Add in nearly 2 dribbles per game and a better-than-league-average crossing percentage and you have a quietly outstanding player.

The picture that forms of Willian is a player who can contribute significantly at both ends of the pitch—effectively the role that Scolari has asked of Hulk. Naturally a forward and starting up front for his club on a weekly basis, Hulk does not possess the qualities of his rival deeper in the pitch. He is, though, a greater goal threat and scored on 17 occasions in this year's Russian Premier League alone.

On the right for Brazil, though, he has scored just twice in 13 games since the arrival of the new head coach at the beginning of 2013.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

There is an opening in the coming friendly fixtures for Willian to prove that he is more in tune with those around him than the Zenit man, with his speed on the counterattack seemingly conducive to link up with the likes of Neymar and Oscar.

Scolari has the luxury of a balanced team unit and settled game plan. All alterations, then, are merely to bring about incremental improvements to what is already a decent side. It is a nice position to be in two weeks ahead of a major tournament.

The likes of Willian and Fernandinho will feel they have one last shot at a starting berth over the next fortnight, and while he is loyal to his troops, Scolari is also fair about rewarding good performances.

If Willian can outshine Hulk in the clashes with Serbia and Panama, he will be in pole position when it comes to the fixture with Croatia on 12 June.