When he arrived at Stamford Bridge, Guus Hiddink guided Chelsea to five consecutive victories after he had replaced Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2009, taking the struggling team to the Champions League semi-finals and an FA Cup triumph. He did what was expected of him and he left Chelsea the following summer having endeared himself to the Chelsea fans and impressed the board of directors at Stamford Bridge.
Although on his return to SW6 he learned that it won’t be so straightforward this time around as the mire Chelsea find themselves in this time is a world away from the relative normality of Hiddink’s first appointment. The team he is tasked with coaching is also vastly lacking the same minerals of their predecessors, there is a serious want for leadership in this side with only John Terry as a recognised leader on the pitch with enough character to assert his authority on these undeforming stars. Hiddink’s job the first time around was to simply awake a sleeping lion. This time around it is an envious task of galvanising a team into pulling themselves away from the relegation zone and saving the reputation of Chelsea Football Club.
Hiddink watched from the stands as Sunderland offered little resistance last week. But I did not take a genius to work out that this Sunderland side along with Aston Villa are arguably the only two teams in the division on worse form than Chelsea. It was always likely to be a false dawn as the blues swept aside their lowly opposition 3-1 with goals from Branislav Ivanovic, Pedro and a penalty from Oscar with Fabio Borini providing a mere consolation for the visitors.
A false dawn it proved to be indeed as next up at Stamford Bridge was high flying Watford who were a different proposition, and they left west London with a well-deserved share of the points to keep the Blues well entrenched in the relegation mire. Revitalised Diego Costa opened the scoring with a predatory close-range finish after 32 minutes, but their vulnerability once again showed just 10 minutes later, when an inexplicable Nemanja Matic handball allowed Troy Deeney to convert the ensuing penalty from 12 yards.
It was the kind of complacency that has plagued the Blues all season, and there was more carelessness when they failed to close down Odion Ighalo for Watford’s second goal 10 minutes after half-time. Although Watford can thank lady luck as there was a slice of good fortune for the Hornets with the deflection to take the ball away from Thibaut Courtois, but Gary Cahill could and should have done more to prevent the shot in the first place.
Cahill’s centre-back partnership with John Terry looked to be a shambles on more than one occasion during the match. The duo was the bedrock of Chelsea’s title canter last season, but Deeney and Ighalo gave them plenty of problems. This was the 11th time in 18 Premier League games that Chelsea have conceded two or more goals this season, something that only occurred five times in the whole of the previous campaign. All in all, it is worth remembering that it was only last season that the blues faced the hornets in last year’s FA cup and walked away comfortable 3-0 winners.
When it was announced that Hiddink was returning for a second stint it was thought that he would bring with him some ideas about blooding the endless youth talents that Chelsea have at their disposal. Two games into his second reign and we are yet to see any signs of this unless you can justify a 30 second run out in injury time at Old Trafford justifiable for someone of Ruben Loftus Cheeks talent. Another scenario conjured up was that the whole formation and system would change which once again couldn’t have been further from the truth. Against Watford in the first half the pivot partnership of Matic and Fabregas was once again exposed and proved inadequate for the task. It was solved at half time with the introduction of cult hero John Obi Mikel in place of the uninspiring Cesc Fabregas and immediately proved to be more solid. Since the 4-2-3-1 no longer appears to work for this crop of players the question on everybody’s lips has been why not resort back to the 4-3-3 that was famed for guiding Chelsea to success in Jose Mourinho’s first stint in charge.
Now that Hiddink is back, the Mourinho saga must be moved on from and Chelsea need to focus on salvaging whatever they can from their season. Whether that be targeting as high a finish as possible in the league or focusing on the two remaining cup competitions-the FA cup and Champions League-. Ex Chelsea defender Jason Cundy believes the Blue’s fortunes lay in the cup, he said “The Champions League is where I think most of his concentration is going to go, of course there’s the FA Cup,” He also went onto say that the where the team come in the league does not matter as it will not be reflective of where Chelsea really should be. “That’s going to have to be his aim – silverware. That’s the only thing he can do, the league, finishing, 10th, 15th, 8th, does it really matter? As long as they don’t go down”.
Whatever it is that comes out of this season, Chelsea fans, players and staff alike will all hope Hiddink can deliver similar levels of success as the last time he was in charge. Even if this task is seeming to be a million miles away in similarity to the first time.
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