With Chelsea adding even more South American flair to their squad in the transfer window, who will get the nod from Jose Mourinho?
Has Juan Cuadrado been bought simply to sit on the sidelines? Or is this the end for midfield dynamo Willian?
The Case For Willian
There was a minor Willian masterclass at Villa Park last weekend.
In characteristic fashion, he ran up and down the pitch – huffing and puffing, yet seemingly never tiring.
It is this aspect of his game that has so endeared him to Mourinho. Last season, in the run-up to the World Cup, it was Andre Schurrle who filled that role – Chelsea's Duracell Bunny in midfield.
But this season, it has been Willian who has dislodged Schurrle from the team (and ultimately the club) through his far greater consistency.
Though fans love to sing his name, Willian does have his detractors.
One of the most common complaints I hear is the standard 'no end product' grumble – people expecting him to be an old-style winger who can cross or shoot.
Willian is certainly less keen on shooting than Schurrle was (something which worked against the German when his form dipped and he planted several balls a game in the car park).
Though we have seen the Brazilian go close with a shot or two in recent weeks, Willian's skill is in beating the man to the ball, carrying it, then supplying someone else – usually Diego Costa.
At Villa, the recipient was Eden Hazard – our man being the key link man between Oscar and the Belgian's well worked goal.
Villa, and perhaps even more so Manchester City a week earlier, were good examples of the sort of games he is made for – lots of running, big players to be beaten, tight formations demanding innovative options....
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The Case For Cuadrado
Juan Cuadrado, meanwhile, is both the same as, and different to, Willian.
A very clever footballer – who is probably best known to British audiences as the man feeding James Rodriguez for Colombia at the World Cup – he also has almost as much stamina as Willian.
Thus, he will provide great worth in cover for Cesc Fabregas in the Chelsea engine room – as indeed Willian himself did at for much of the game at Villa.
But it is his explosive pace that sets him apart from others – and that, combined with his natural right-sidedness, adds something to Mourinho's squad that simply wasn't there before.
Speed alone, as Chelsea have found out with Mohamed Salah, is not much use in the Premier League. And Cuadrado has far more.
While he stuttered somewhat at Fiorentina, within a system that did not always suit him, Chelsea's set-up is more similar to that of the Colombian national team – not necessarily in formation, but in terms of the use of a deep-lying holding man to cover for a lack of pace at centre-half.
Chelsea's bids to switch defence into attack this season have often used Branislav Ivanovic down the right flank – which in turn has left Gary Cahill with two bases to cover.
As early as November last year, a Premier League opposition scout told me this had been identified as the Blues' biggest weakness – and Cuadrado plugs it, but allowing Ivanovic to do his own job, and pulling the team forward.
His experience at fullback also means he can cover for Ivanovic when the rush for goal proves too tempting.
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So the question of who will feature in the big games – whether it is Willian or Cuadrado who walks straight into Mourinho's settled first XI – is a little off the mark.
The Chelsea boss does like to stick with a fixed first team, 'The Untouchables' as he memorably called them last time. But there has been some movement in that attacking midfield unit this season, and there no doubt will be more so as fatigue takes its toll and fixtures pile-up in the campaign's closing stages.
Rather than a choice between Willian and Cuadrado, Mourinho now has a midfield pack involving those two and Fabregas (known, in previous seasons, to diminish in returns after New Year), Hazard and Oscar. Even a resurgent Ramires is available to offer something slightly different.
Since stepping back through the door at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho has battled to try and rebalance a squad that previously looked more like a mere collection of players.
With the arrival of Cuadrado he has taken a big step in the right direction.
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