For many years the contest for top spot in the Ukrainian Premier League was played out by that country’s two footballing powerhouses, Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk. Willian is hoping the experience he accrued at the latter club, challenging for the title during an extremely productive five-year spell in the east of Ukraine, will stand him in good stead during the closing weeks of his first season in England.
The first and last of the four league championships Willian won while at Shakhtar, in 2008 and 2012, were only secured on the final day of the league season. In 2009/10, meanwhile, it required an extraordinary run of form – 16 wins and a draw from their final 17 games – to pip nearest rivals Dynamo to the title.
‘Those were excellent experiences for me,’ recalls the Brazilian, ‘even though I must say the two leagues are completely different.
‘Here the league is stronger and more competitive compared with the one in Ukraine. There are more teams coming up to the finish line trying to win the title and I’m enjoying that. I just hope that when it comes to the end of the season Chelsea are on top.’
If we are to finish first come 11 May it is likely we will need to win all four of our remaining Premier League fixtures, starting with the visit of Sunderland tomorrow. The Black Cats, managed by our former midfielder Gustavo Poyet, will travel south buoyed by the impressive draw they earned away to Manchester City on Wednesday. It was only the second time in their past nine league games they have avoided defeat.
‘It’s going to be hard,’ says Willian. ‘Sunderland are in a relegation battle so they will fight for everything. They’re going to come to Stamford Bridge hoping to take at least a point home just like they did when they went to City.
‘They’re not going to make it easy and it’s up to us to do the best we can and make sure we get the three points.’
Following the Sunderland game we travel to Spain to take on Atletico Madrid in the first leg of what promises to be a special semi-final clash. After that game against the La Liga leaders comes one with the Premier League leaders, Liverpool, and while the trip to Anfield and the European double-header have the look of season-defining matches, Willian is keen to stress the squad are not considering them – yet.
‘We just focus ourselves on the game ahead, and the game ahead is Sunderland tomorrow. Only after that game is over can we start thinking about the Champions League game against Atletico.
‘For now, though, all our concentration is on Sunderland.’
– Live audio commentary of Chelsea v Sunderland will be available via our Live Matches section.