Lacina Traore may not be too familiar to many in this county, but Willian is well aware of the recent Everton acquisition’s strengths. Traore, a 6ft 8in striker, joined the Toffees on loan from Monaco in the January transfer window, having only completed a permanent move to the principality side earlier that month.
Our own Romelu Lukaku is ineligible for tomorrow’s game, and with Arouna Kone a long-term absentee and Nikica Jelavic now at Hull, it is likely that Traore will feature at the Bridge having scored on his Everton debut against Swansea last weekend.
It was in Romania that the lofty Ivorian made his name, impressing for CFR Cluj domestically and in Europe. Dan Petrescu, then in charge of Russian side Kuban Krasnodar, spotted the potential and returned to his native Romania to lure Traore east. He shone under the management of our former star and soon secured a move to big-spending Anzhi Makhachkala. Samuel Eto’o was already there, and Willian joined soon after.
‘He’s a great player,’ our no.22 tells the official Chelsea website. ‘He’s a very tall player who can protect the ball and knows how to score goals. We will have to be very attentive and take good notice of him because he’s a dangerous player and if you give him an opportunity he will score.
‘Off the pitch he’s a very nice guy and a good person. He has good morals and he is also a bit of a joker who likes to have fun with his team-mates.’
Willian’s own time at Anzhi ended in August when he signed for Chelsea, and it was at Goodison Park, in September, that the Brazilian experienced his first matchday with the Blues. A member of the travelling party but not selected in the final squad of 18, Willian’s first taste of Premier League football in the flesh clearly left a lasting impression, and he explains the difficulties we faced in that hard-fought 1-0 loss quickly exemplified the combative nature of the game in this country.
Over five months later, and with many Chelsea appearances now under his belt, what has Willian learned?
‘English football is very different from anything I’ve experienced before. It’s really competitive, and really fast. I used to watch it on TV but you just don’t have the same idea as when you actually play in it. I can feel the difference now. In my opinion it is the best league in the world.
‘My aim is to keep improving every game I play so I can develop my game further here. I feel really happy to have been able to start so many games and to earn my place in the team, and to find my place with the other players, the manager and the technical coaches. I will try to work even harder so I can continue enjoying it as much as I have been doing.’
Tomorrow’s Game for Equality, the club’s first, aims to highlight work promoting equality within sport. It is a project Willian is delighted to lend his support to.
‘I am proud to speak up for this new campaign to show we are in this together. All sorts of discrimination, whether it is racism, homophobia or bullying, cannot be tolerated. We must all be treated equally.
‘It is important we – the players – speak up against discrimination because we are seen on TV, we are followed by many people and we are idols to some. Therefore we must show we do not agree with any form of discrimination and we need to pass this message on to all the people who support us.’
There is an important message to be sent out on the pitch, too, particularly in the wake of a couple of disappointing results away from home. Willian is targeting a return to winning ways.
‘It’s important to understand that it’s very difficult for any team to do well and to play well every single game,’ the 25-year-old points out. ‘Sometimes on the day it doesn’t go for you and you are not feeling your best.
‘But I believe we are playing well and the team is doing well. I hope tomorrow we will get back to showing our strengths, continuing our progress and winning the match because we want to still be first in the Premier League table.’