For footballers in the modern game, a true test of their abilities at club level comes in Europe, particularly in the Champions League, and having already produced some eye-catching displays on the biggest stage with one of his previous sides, Willian is confident of doing the same at Chelsea.
The Brazilian completed his move to Stamford Bridge shortly before the closure of the summer transfer window in August, and made his Blues debut in our opening game of this season’s European campaign against Basel. If selected for tonight’s clash with Schalke, Willian will make his fifth start for the Blues, and his appearances since making his bow have produced some telling contributions.
As well as scoring his first goal for the club in our 3-1 win at Norwich, he supplied the ball from which Frank Lampard scored against Steaua Bucharest, while even more recently, it was Willian’s speculative pass which led to the mix-up between Matija Nastasic and Joe Hart against Manchester City, allowing Fernando Torres to score the winner.
‘Every day I feel better and feel as though I’m improving,’ he tells the official Chelsea website. ‘It’s only a short while since I arrived and it’s completely normal that you need time to adapt and be eased into the team.
‘Most importantly, I’m trying to help the team as much as I can, that’s what I’m here to do. In the game against Bucharest I was very happy to assist Frank Lampard, and then I scored my first goal against Norwich. I believe that by improving all the time I will gain the trust of the team and hopefully I will be able to get more games under my belt.’
Willian is no stranger to European football, having enjoyed a six-year spell at Shakhtar Donetsk prior to arriving in west London, albeit via a short stint in Russia with Anzhi Makhachkala.
During his time with the Ukrainian side they were regulars in the Champions League, while Willian played an instrumental role as they tasted European success by winning the 2009 UEFA Cup.
‘In terms of titles, winning the UEFA Cup in 2009 is probably the most important in my career so far,’ he says. ‘I won a lot of titles during my time at Shakhtar, and they are all very memorable, but winning a European trophy was the best of them all.’
Chelsea supporters will of course remember the brace he scored against us for Shakhtar in last season’s Champions League, and the creative attacker, if selected, is looking forward to influencing tonight’s game against Schalke in a positive way.
‘I believe every Champions League game is a final and we have to win this game as it will allow us to take control of the group and think about qualifying,’ he explains.
‘It’s very important for us, a key game, not only because winning the Champions League is very important, but also because a win will give us confidence looking ahead. We need to be positive and go out to win the game.’
Having enjoyed a varied career to date, and sampled a wide range of footballing cultures, Willian is well placed to identify the differences between certain aspects of the game, and he assessed the contrasts between domestic and European football.
‘In the Premier League it’s so much faster and a lot more intense, whereas in the Champions League it’s slightly slower paced and you have more time on the ball,’ he says.
‘Even though they are both very different I think it’s important to add elements from each into the other in order to help improve the team.’
Our opponents have experienced a mixed start to their campaign, but while our 3-0 victory in Gelsenkirchen a fortnight ago was, in the end, a comfortable one, Jens Keller’s side, who are unbeaten in seven matches away from home, showed enough in the first half to suggest they shouldn’t be underestimated.
With two German teams contesting the final of last season’s competition, Willian believes the overall quality of the Bundesliga is on the rise.
‘German football has a lot of great players and it’s a style of play which is extremely competitive,’ he says.
‘They have teams with a lot of quality and they’ve been growing over the past few years. We saw their abilities in last season’s Champions League with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund reaching the final. German teams are becoming stronger every year and the Bundesliga is a great competition.’
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