Bertrand Traore beginning to make good on earlier Chelsea promise
Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Stoke City on Saturday was not the most fascinating of encounters.
There was enough to keep it interesting without ever putting the supporters on the edge of their seats, though both teams struggled to keep hold of the ball to exert periods of dominance, with mistakes instead outweighing moments of skill. But amid the mediocrity was a moment of brightness.
Bertrand Traore's opening goal brought every home supporter inside Stamford Bridge to their feet, and not just because he had broken the deadlock. The first touch that enabled him to turn sharply away from his marker was exquisite, and he followed that by sashaying his way into a bit of space before unleashing a pile driver inside the far post. It combined skill, poise, composure, clinical accuracy and that most important component of all -- confidence.
That confidence was born out of the faith shown in him by Guus Hiddink, who has called upon him regularly in the past few weeks and has been rewarded by some decent displays. Now comfortable in his new surroundings, Traore was able to both attempt and execute a bold manoeuvre that should have delivered all three points for this team but for a poor palm away from Thibaut Courtois that allowed Mame Biram Diouf to equalise.
His goal was particularly pleasing because it made good on the promise that Traore had shown in his earliest appearances in a blue shirt. The Burkino Faso international first leapt into the consciousness of the majority of Chelsea fans when he scored a magnificent goal as a trialist in a preseason tour of the Far East in 2013 against Indonesia All Stars.
His strike on Saturday was eerily reminiscent of the one that served notice of his talent in the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta two-and-half years ago. Struck firmly with his left foot from almost the exact same position on the pitch, and hitting almost the same part of the net, Saturday's goal at Stamford Bridge in a Premier League match almost felt like his graduation into the senior fold.
Not that this was his first for the club or even his first in the Premier League. He has, after all, netted in four of his last five appearances to show that he clearly has a natural instinct for finding the back of the net. It was also highly encouraging to see Traore put an early miss to the back of his mind after he missed the opportunity to convert a lovely cross from Cesar Azpilicueta.
Previously considered to be another in the long list of attacking midfielders that Chelsea have collected over the past few years, his conversion to being a mobile central striker is paying dividends. Being more lithe than muscular, and possessing pace rather than power, Traore is a totally different striker to Diego Costa.
That, however, is to Chelsea's benefit as it provides an alternative to the confrontational approach presented by the former Atletico Madrid man, which is vital in matches where the opposition's tactics have thwarted Chelsea's original game plan. Traore and Costa have also shown that they can work in tandem -- albeit with Traore as a wide forward -- when the former supplied a perfect angled pass from which the latter doubled the advantage in the 2-1 win at Norwich.
That Traore was substituted against Stoke with more than 20 minutes remaining was telling in itself. With Costa suffering from a knock and Paris Saint-Germain looming on Wednesday, the need for at least one fully fit and firing striker was clear. Traore's removal from the fray showed that, in Hiddink's mind at least, he is now the main back up to Costa with his replacement, the experienced Loic Remy, very much relegated to third choice.
Thankfully, it is looking increasingly likely that Costa will be fit to start against the French champions. But should there be any setback for him or should the team be in desperate need of a goal as the clock winds down on Wednesday, then Traore will almost certainly appear in this fixture of enormous magnitude.
That the 20-year-old is getting his chance is a combination of factors. Injuries to both Costa and Pedro have opened the door though rotation and the lack of a meaningful objective in the remainder of the Premier League campaign have also played a significant part. Though it is also down to the player himself seizing his chance. Chelsea fans will be hoping that some of this rubs off on Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has been afforded some minutes though no starts of late.
Unfortunately, the academy product has not been able to make the most of his sparse opportunities and has seemed almost a little laboured in his pursuits. Loftus-Cheek has not been helped by being played in a more advanced position when a slightly deeper role would suit him better and allow him to get more involved in the play.
However, he can take inspiration from Traore being played out of his comfort zone yet still being able to flourish. One significant difference in the recent development of the two players is that Traore spent the whole of last season and half of the previous campaign playing competitive top-flight football with Vitesse Arnhem in Holland. Loftus-Cheek, by contrast, has spent most of that time watching from the sidelines. It is little surprise then that Traore is a little further down the path than his teammate.
Traore and Loftus-Cheek are both 20 years old with the world at their feet and the potential to make real names for themselves at Chelsea over the coming years should they make a success of their current first-team chances. But while much of the talk over the past 12 months has surrounded the young Englishman though currently it is the Burkino Faso man that is rightfully stealing the plaudits. If Traore delivers again if called upon against PSG they will only get louder.