A tale of two attacking midfielders – how Wilfried Zaha can learn from Willian

Chelsea returned to somewhere close to their best on Sunday with a commanding 3-0 win over an admittedly depleted Crystal Palace side at Selhurst Park.

The wet conditions insinuated that slick football could be difficult to play, but no-one told the visitors as Guus Hiddink oversaw arguably the West London club’s best performance of the campaign to date.

On the respective sides, an attacking midfielder played a key role for the eventual victors, while another flitted in and out of the game, failing to deliver quality in the final third.

Willian has without doubt been Chelsea’s best player in a forgettable season so far and continued his sparkling form with another sublime performance for the Blues.

In the absence of Yohan Cabaye and Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha was afforded a central role for the hosts but despite some tidy touches was largely on the game’s peripheries.

The Palace star has all the attributes to be a future England international but should look to Willian as an example of how to take his performances to the next level.

The Brazilian has had to work hard to become a regular starter at Stamford Bridge after a big-money move from Anzhi Makhachkala, but is quickly becoming an essential member of this star-studded team.

Willian’s delivery from dead balls has been a standout this term, with his direct free-kicks in particular earning the South American praise, but his performance at Selhurst Park showcased just how influential he can be in open play.

In a team struggling for confidence, the gifted technician is always eager and willing to put in a defensive shift for the greater good of the collective.

When Chelsea have the ball he is nearly always available to receive it, while Willian has clearly worked on his distribution and decision making as he now rarely coughs up possession.

The most impressive thing about the Brazil international’s performance against Palace and throughout the campaign to date has been his accuracy and delivery when he finds himself in promising attacking positions.

If Diego Costa is to regain the scintillating form in front of goal that he displayed last term, the Spain international will be reliant on Willian continuing to pose such an attacking threat.

It was the Brazilian that gifted the centre forward the third goal against Palace, beating James McArthur with ease before his cross-goal effort was palmed into Costa’s path.

Wilfried ZahaWillian also was quick to take up dangerous positions between the Eagles’ lines, while he created chances that others could and should have finished.

To cap a superb display, the 27-year-old dispatched Chelsea’s second goal with venom, delivering an unstoppable shot from range to put his side into an unassailable position.

With the out-of-form Eden Hazard again limping off with injury, Willian is quickly becoming the Blues’ most dynamic attacking player and someone that can be deemed as one of the Premier League’s best.

Zaha and Palace have had an excellent season to date, but the former Manchester United winger’s limitations were on show against the reigning champions.

The 23-year-old’s individualism and skill have never been in doubt, but for the attacker to develop into an international-calibre player he needs to improve his footballing intelligence.

Zaha was guilty of overplaying on a number of occasions on Sunday, negating promising attacking positions in the process when a simple early pass would have suited the team’s interests better than trying to unnecessarily beat an opponent.

When the flying wideman did find himself able to cross or shoot, a lack of conviction and quality highlighted the difference between a promising star of tomorrow and a player like Willian, who looks closer to the finished product.

Zaha is more dangerous and comfortable in a wide role and will surely be posted on a flank again once Palace welcome back unavailable faces.

The youngster is showing all the attributes of a player that can go on to greater things, but obviously still has a lot to learn in the game also.

Alan Pardew and the Palace coaching staff will continue to put in hours on the training paddock to improve elements of Zaha’s game, with watching Sunday’s game again and comparing his performance to that of Willian a good start to help the Englishman develop.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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