Everyone loves the fairytale-esque turnaround of an underdog’s season. Last season we witnessed Leicester change their fortunes from last in the table, to avoiding relegation from the league that they would eventually sit atop of the following winter. The footballing world unanimously agrees that the same outcome for mid-table Chelsea now would generally be a good thing.
Hiddink’s Record: Seven matches without a loss.
Currently unbeaten in the calendar year, including a victory at the Emirates and an off-side Terry backheel salvaging a point against Martínez’s lacklustre Everton, Chelsea are technically the team in form in what has been a peculiar season of English football.
With Mourinho losing the Chelsea dressing room after his first recorded instance of turning against his own team and staff – from the unnecessary row with doctors Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn, to openly criticising his players’ weak mentality – Abramovich was tasked with replacing the Special One with someone who could deliver both consistency and damage limitation. Much like during his previous stint as Chelsea interim, Hiddink’s effect wasn’t immediate, but he now seems to have brought about an element of solidity and sensibility – arguably the perfect remedy to the problems that Mourinho’s arrogance were causing.
While players with flair such as Pedro and Hazard have failed to show up for Hiddink as of yet (the latter through injury), the remnant’s of Chelsea’s old guard – namely Terry, Ivanovic and Mikel – have refined their performances, and this is reflected in the team’s results.
The Guus effect is not only visible in an altogether steady defence, but also in attack. While the first few months of the season saw Willian free-kicks and own goals fighting over position of club top scorer, Chelsea have started to display coherent attacking movement which is at times somewhat reminiscent of the attacking prowess that lead them to their 4th Premier League title last spring. John Obi Mikel’s more consistent place in the first XI, replacing the out-of-form Matic, has given Fabregas the opportunity to push up more freely, and resume his preferred role as relatively deep-lying playmakers.
Hiddink’s effect [is] arguably the perfect remedy to the problems that Mourinho’s arrogance were causing.
These increasingly accurate passes from the Chelsea midfielder are now being received by an improved Diego Costa, who is not only toeing the line between bully and source of frustration amongst defenders, but cutting down on this meandering runs down the wings and returning to his optimal target man role. Six goals in as many games for Diego Costa, as opposed to three under Mourinho this season, reflects Chelsea’s better use of their attacking assets.
It will be interesting to see how Chelsea finish the January transfer window, having sold the inconsistent but useful squad player that is Ramires in a lucrative deal with Chinese team Jiangsu Suning, and looking likely to off-load strikers Falcao and Rémy. The club’s track record of placing faith in academy products leaves little hope for Bamford and Traoré playing big parts in the second half of the season. In any case, Hiddink will be hoping that the reinvigoration of Chelsea’s season will be epitomised by the return to European football of Alexandre Pato.
The FA Cup remains Chelsea’s best chance at qualifying for European football next season, and they look like a safe addition to any accumulators as they’ll likely be playing a strong team against Championship strugglers MK Dons on Sunday!