STAMFORD BRIDGE, LONDON — After three games in a week, once again we're left discussing Chelsea's rising stars.
On Tuesday, Bertrand Traore had to share the headlines with Kenedy on the back of their encouraging displays in the 2-1 victory over Norwich City. With a wonder goal to his name and another impressive performance against Stoke City, Traore has the limelight all to himself this time.
Traore deputised for Diego Costa in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Stoke, giving us a glimpse of what he is capable of when playing through the middle. Until now, the Burkina Faso international has been utilised as a substitute on the flanks; even when starting midweek at Norwich, it was on the right where we saw him.
Traore is a goalscorer, though, and with his eye for goal, the expectation has always been that he will eventually play in a more central area. Saturday was a big opportunity to convince people he should. And Traore didn't disappoint.
It was an otherwise forgettable afternoon so far as entertainment goes. Chelsea will say otherwise, but this team played like one with more than an eye on Wednesday's Champions League round-of-16 showdown with Paris Saint-Germain. And why wouldn't they? It's that match that will go a long way in determining how successful Chelsea's campaign will be, not a mid-table clash in the Premier League.
Stoke were surprisingly unlike their usual selves, seemingly content to play to Chelsea's reduced tempo and settle for a point.
The stakes were much higher for Traore, however, as he rose to the occasion with a standout moment of individual brilliance just before the interval. One suspects that even in a game of incident and action, it would have been no different.
The 20-year-old had been threatening throughout the first half without getting the breaks his work off the ball deserved. Shots were being blocked at the last minute, and when Traore eventually found himself in scoring positions, the pass from a team-mate wasn't clinical enough.
Then came the goal. Traore received the ball on the edge of the box in the 39th minute and found himself plenty of room to turn before unleashing an unstoppable shot across Jack Butland into the top corner. It was special, bringing his tally up to four goals in five matches.
Chelsea's interim manager, Guus Hiddink, was suitably impressed.
"You see in parts of the game that he has quality," Hiddink said afterward. "He showed that already when he came on at Stamford Bridge [as a substitute in previous games]. It's a little bit different when you're starting at Stamford Bridge from the beginning, which you can see.
"Of course he has quality, but also all the young players have to try to control and dominate their nerves. He showed with that goal that he has capacity to do a lot."
These past two months have been significant where Traore is concerned. From being on the fringes, we've seen him take a huge step forward in his Chelsea career to leapfrog the more senior players around him in the pecking order.
Loic Remy has been back fit for close to a month, but it's Traore getting the nod whenever Costa is rested or, as was the case on Saturday, carrying a minor injury. Even with the on-loan Alexandre Pato making the bench, Traore is getting a huge vote of confidence from his manager.
Hiddink wouldn't admit it, but Traore has become Chelsea's second striker behind Costa.
"The strikers compete among themselves," Hiddink responded diplomatically when Bleacher Report asked him whether Traore was his No. 2 striker.
"We have some strikers now in the team that compete in a healthy way among themselves. If they show what they can do in training, then it will be rewarded."
The encouraging part of it all for Traore is he's not doing it in training—it's in matches where he is showing up. Since the turn of the year, no other player outside of Costa has scored more goals for Chelsea than the Burkinabe (Oscar also has four goals to his name).
It's those sorts of stats that are convincing us Traore is about much more than the hype surrounding any youngster coming through.
Hiddink may have been looking ahead to Wednesday and PSG with his team selection against Stoke, yet Traore is affording us the opportunity toward next season.
This summer is going to be a significant one for Chelsea, as the need to refresh this team is vital. How the Blues conduct their business in the transfer market is going to affect the next few years, so the need to get things right is critical.
Traore has potentially saved them millions that can be invested elsewhere. Suddenly, there is an alternative to Costa up front and Chelsea aren't so reliant on the Spain international—they have a player capable of playing that back-up role and doing it well.
That has to be the target for club and player. Traore's performance against Stoke showed us his strengths but equally where he needs to improve. The presence Costa offers wasn't quite there, and he needs to develop his intelligence when deciding what runs to make and when.
It's by being deployed like he has been under Hiddink that Traore will develop that part of his game. Already he's showing he is clinical in front of goal, so with experience and minutes, Traore's career is only going to blossom.
Chelsea have a real player within their ranks; Traore's showing he's going all the way to the top.