Four games into the season and it’s four wins for Chelsea with the latest a 2-0 victory over Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge this past weekend. It took 72 minutes to break the deadlock after an inspired substitution by the Italian coach Maurizio Sarri. He brought on Pedro for Willian who opened the scoring with Eden Hazard rounding off the game with his customary contribution.
Willian toiled away on a sunny day in London for 70 minutes but Pedro’s introduction gave Chelsea energy and the impetus which resulted in a wonderfully crafted goal. Nevertheless, after starting both wingers in his four games in charge, Sarri must now decide whether Willian or Pedro deserves to start for Chelsea alongside Álvaro Morata and Eden Hazard.
The Chelsea faithful have debated the Pedro/Willian conundrum for years with each player’s style and form dividing opinion. After a few seasons in the Premier League, we can fairly compare the data and see who should statistically start. Rather than diving straight into the statistics, we will need to understand their playing styles to better discern the numbers.
Willian’s Playing Style
The Brazilian winger offers a different dimension to the rest of his peers. Willian isn’t a traditional playmaking winger who drifts in centrally but enjoys playing out to the wing, stretching play and running towards the opposition defence. One of Willian’s trademarks has been his high work rate which is reflected by his desire to drop deep into midfield for the ball and run with it.
Whether he drops his left shoulder and meanders into the opposition 18-yard area and shoots, or runs towards the byline and crosses for his target man, the Brazilian oozes class. His silky touch and sensational dribbling ability is a joy to behold and along with his electrifying work rate, this makes him a manager’s dream. Willian’s interchanging play is impressive; he is usually the centre of some exquisite build-up play. Even though Willian prefers the ball to his feet, his off-the-ball movement is exemplary and that is complemented by his explosive acceleration and pace.
Pedro’s Style of Play
While Willian prefers the ball to feet, Pedro is happier running off the shoulder of the last defender. The Spaniard’s intelligent movement, positioning and clinical finishing is what makes him one of the most dangerous forwards in world football. Bought with a reputation of being well versed in Pep Guardiola’s Tiki-Taka style of football, the Spanish winger is equally adept at using both feet and operates as a winger or inside forward. An acute understanding of intricate play in the final third combined with intelligent runs behind opposition centre-backs, has made Pedro a predator in the box and is undoubtedly one of the deadliest finishers in world football when given the right service. He is by no means a playmaker but rather a modern forward who runs off the shoulders of defenders and is a menace to mark.
Willian versus Pedro
One point I would emphasise is both Willian and Pedro’s strengths lie in their build-up play and off-the-ball movement rather than direct contributions. Using the data, I want to prove how their offensive and defensive contributions around build up play are vital to the team’s new style. We will refer to their goal and assist contributions towards the end.
It is important to note that both Willian and Pedro both suffered from limited game time due to Antonio Conte’s preference on playing a 3-5-2 formation, which featured Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard as the two furthest forward in the 2017/18 season.
There is no doubt; offensively both Willian and Pedro are highly effective and most influential. Both wingers have a successful take on percentage. Pedro averaged 67.39% whilst Willian averaged 67.03%. It’s quite surprising to see Pedro marginally edge Willian due to his preference to run in behind, although the difference is negligible. The Brazilian’s style of play is much more suited in one v one situations, where his pace and dribbling ability comes more into play.
Sarri’s use of a high line requires his three forward players to press the opposition centre-backs, closing off open spaces and pressure the defenders into misplacing passes. In my opinion, interceptions play an important role for the forwards in Sarri’s high pressing system where defending starts from the front. A vital interception could turn into a swift counter-attack within the final third and with a disjointed defensive line, can result in a goal. Pedro excels in these situations with an average of 0.41 interceptions per game. Willian averages 0.26 interceptions per game. As we can see, Willian doesn’t match Pedro’s contribution but we can determine both wingers relish the press against the opposing defence along with the full-back or right-sided central midfielder. Sarri employed a similar pattern at Napoli. Understanding a pattern is more important than the personnel playing in their position.
Not only do they have a remarkable work ethic but both players are capable of conjuring key passes to influence a goal or assist. The Antonio Conte reign was based around a counter-attacking and pressing system that required an immense amount of off the ball work so creating an average of 1.46 key passes across 1,824 minutes, Willian undoubtedly had an influence even when he wasn’t started as frequently. Pedro didn’t fare as well with an average of 0.76 key passes per game.
Is There A Clear Winner?
It is still too early in the season to definitively decide which winger deserves a starting birth in Sarri’s XI. Based on early season form, Pedro has been clinical with three goals in four matches.
Meanwhile, Willian has contributed one assist. If we compare their goal and assist outputs from last season, we can see Willian was more clinical with six goals and seven assists compared to Pedro’s four goals and two assists. By definition, their role is to manufacture chances and score goals but every manager has used them in different roles. For example, José Mourinho and Antonio Conte utilised Willian’s determination to track opposition wingers and fullbacks whilst maintaining (and possibly curbing) his attacking instinct.
Sarri’s philosophy has given him and Pedro the freedom to attack spaces, whether it is in behind the opposition’s defence or drifting into space granting them every opportunity to flourish under this new attacking system. Maurizio Sarri’s possession-based tactics should allow Chelsea to see the majority of the ball. Not only does this result in more key passes but more shots on goal.
The numbers have determined Pedro as Sarri’s number one choice at right wing but in my opinion, their selection will be based on the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses. Both players bring their own tools to the table and Sarri will rely on both players equally to bring the best out of his newly adopted team.