When Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea in 2003 it was believed to be a hobby for him. Fast forward 15 years and after securing a few Premier League titles and cup triumphs the 51-year-old is believed to be considering selling the club and moving on to pastures new. Whether this would be the right approach for him on a personal (or a business) level is something only he can decide, but Blues fans will likely be hoping that he opts to remain in charge at Stamford Bridge. He has transformed the shape and future of Chelsea Football Club during his ownership, bringing in several world-class players and delivering a standard of football which had long since been desired among the terraces.
Ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, the visitors have been using social media to criticise their opposition. Most notably, the Parisians targeting Chelsea striker Diego Costa for his poor scoring record in the Champions League with the Blues, but manager Guus Hiddink leapt to his defence and holds him in high regard.
The Brazilian-born Spanish international has scored just once in 14 Champions League games from Chelsea since his 2014 move from Atletico Madrid, but had no problems hitting the back of the net in the competition for his former side. Costa bagged eight goals in nine Champions League games for Atleti, but Hiddink isn’t panicking about his meagre tally for the Londoners, and believes his aggression and selfless attitude remains integral, not just his scoring.
“I’m very proud of him the way he’s playing and, going not over the edge, but he likes to fight in the real way of the game. That’s what we like. I protect him and support him when he’s doing what he has done in my period at Chelsea. In the Premier League he frequently is scoring now, since December, January. Before he had this problem of not scoring, as did the team. Let’s see and hope he can make it to the European level as well,” said the Dutchman.
Diego Costa has found his scoring touch for Chelsea under Hiddink, with 10 goals in his 14 games under the interim manager, so he could well strike against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday evening. The 27-year-old was struggling with injuries earlier in the season, but he’s coming off the back of fine domestic form as well as clean bill of health so Costa will be hoping to strike to help his side to victory.
Despite Paris Saint-Germain’s Twitter account launching a less than complimentary attack on the striker, calling him a fraud while mocking his face mask to other fictional movie villains, manager Laurent Blanc has told his players of his threat and playing style in preparation for their meeting at Stamford Bridge. “There are two facets to Diego Costa: the player and the man. The player I like very much, a centre-forward who can score a lot of goals, has good movement, who works hard for the team. I’m a big fan of the player,” he said.
Blanc also added: “But we also know the man, a man who likes contact, challenges, even provocation at times. That’s part of his game. We saw that last year and he’s a player who always performs like that. He doesn’t just reserve that for matches against PSG. I’ve told my players not to respond.
“We have to keep cool in the face of provocation, even if we have Brazilian players across our back-line. But we’ll need all our strengths at our disposal in a tight game. We need to stay with 11 on the field and enjoy a good game, so we can’t respond to any provocation, be it from Diego Costa or anyone else. We were made to pay with that a bit last year and, this year, it could be even more difficult.”
It’s clear Paris Saint-Germain are wary of Diego Costa’s threat for Chelsea, and Blanc is particular worried his players might bite to his provocative style of play. With the Spanish international having scored 10 goals in his last 14 games under interim boss Guus Hiddink, can Costa finally shine in Europe?
Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard has struggled for form all season, and his toils give the London club a real quandary on what the best course of action is moving forward. Do they sell a player who was a standout performer in their previous trophy success? Do they keep him and hope a new manager in the summer can see the Belgian return to his best? Or could they afford him a rest period from playing?
The Blues are keen to keep Hazard despite his poor form this season. Interim manager Guus Hiddink has repeatedly stated his intent to keep the forward at Stamford Bridge amid rumours of interest from Paris Saint-Germain. Hiddink is adamant Hazard is willing to stay in London, but his form hasn’t improved since the chance in manager so is drastic action needed?
“Every now and then I have short conversations with him and ask him about the situation et cetera. But he is very keen to be here. He has extended his contract, he is happy here, his family are happy here. There is no sign from his side to say, ‘No, I am eager to go’. Not whatsoever, he is happy,” said Hiddink.
“I remember once he had a sprint on our right-hand side [in the loss to PSG on (Tuesday night). That’s the old Hazard and we hope to see that more frequently. He’s showing once, but he can show more, he’s aware of that. Now it’s up to him to step up.”
Hazard admitted his disdain for pre-season training last summer, citing how the fitness work is far from enjoyable. He hit new heights for the Blues under previous manager Jose Mourinho in 2014/15, but appeared to have burnt out with the rest of the side the following campaign. Unconfirmed rumours also emerged he led a dressing room revolt against Mourinho. Nevertheless, Chelsea had an expensive talent who isn’t performing and they have big decisions to make.
This summer will be even more physically demanding than the last, with Hazard set to represent Belgium in the 2016 European Championships. It means his holiday time will be cut down, and he’s not afforded any rest and recovery period potentially until July. As a result, Chelsea could be getting back a heavily fatigued player in even worse condition than this season, so could they give Hazard an extended rest during the middle of the campaign?
Chelsea have little to play for in the Premier League, and Hazard has been dropped so much that they have more than coped in his absence. So should he be given extended leave to recapture his form?
Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel was singled out for his performance in the Blues’ impressive 3-0 win away to Crystal Palace, and the talented Nigerian looks resurrected following Guus Hiddink’s return to the club. Despite being on the periphery under previous boss Jose Mourinho, Mikel was brought straight in by the Dutch successor and has vindicated the decision almost immediately.
Defensively disciplined, placing an emphasis on quelling the threat of the opposition and laying the ball on for more creative players to thread passes, Mikel did a brilliant job nullifying Palace. His ball retention was superb too, and having a player who simplifies their job as the 28-year-old does is what many others need to do in order to pull Chelsea from their slump.
It’s roughly 10 years since his controversial move from Lyn, and while surprising to see him having outlasted so many greats that have come through the club, his performance against Palace showed exactly why he’s been held on to all this time. Mikel, of course, has his flaws. He’s not the quickest player, and has a tendency to saunter about the pitch, but when he’s at his best he’s highly effective.
Chelsea have long had effective holding midfielders in the past, but Mikel is one player who became forgotten for a lengthy period. He was utilised by Mourinho off the bench late in matches to see them out, sometimes starting in meaningless cup outings to lower league opposition, but Mikel has always been a favourite of Hiddink.
“He played very well but also in the previous game. He’s the ideal player in my option to bring balance to the team. If the team is not willing to defend well, or hasn’t got the right balance, then you’ll concede a lot of goals. I think John Obi can be one of the key figures in bringing back that balance,” said Hiddink.
“On this podium very talented players can explore their qualities. He reads the game very well, he knows where the strength of the opponent is and knows how to combat that. He has very good sense, he doesn’t do it in a brutal way, he’s very elegant. Someone who can defend so smoothly is very beautiful.”
In the Dutchman’s first stint at the club, Mikel made 16 starts and remained unbeaten in all of them – winning 14 and drawing 2. His job is fairly simple, but one he does brilliantly under the right conditions. Despite having been on the periphery for a couple of years under Mourinho, his desire still hasn’t waned and his upturn in form could lead to Chelsea finishing the second half of the season very strongly.
It looks like Guus Hiddink will be superseding Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager. The Special One was deposed on Thursday after a horrendous run of form that has seen the Blues go from defending champions to relegation candidates in less than six months.
The Dutchman is likely to be a short-term appointment – he is 69-years-old now and Roman Abramovich will surely be keeping an eye on the future of Pep Guardiola heading into the summer. But for the time being, Hiddink represents a safe appointment.
That’s due in part to his previous period in charge at Stamford Bridge, where he led Chelsea to an FA Cup final triumph and a controversial loss in the last four of the Champions League. He was so beloved by the club’s players, staff and supporters that he was begged by the likes of John Terry and Michael Ballack to stay after his short-term contract expired. Alas, he had contractual obligations elsewhere.
So how can the affable Dutchman turn his new employer’s season around?
Chelsea boast one of the worst defensive records in the Premier League this term – a far cry from their days of robustness last season. They’ve conceded 26 goals so far in 16 outings; and yet they were only breached 32 times in the 38 game campaign in 2014/15.
So this is obviously an area for improvement, and while Thibaut Courtois’s position in goal is safe there are clearly four spots up for grabs in front of him. That manifested itself in Mourinho’s rein, where six defenders have been rotated with little success.
Surely John Terry’s performances will improve now that Hiddink has been placed in charge, and Cesar Azpilicueta was arguably the league’s standout performer at full back last term. If Branislav Ivanovic can rediscover his form then Chelsea’s defensive platform should be on a firmer fitting.
Last season Nemanja Matic was named in the PFA Team of the Year and Cesc Fabregas broke a long-standing record for the number of assists registered in England’s top flight.
Now Fabregas can barely get a game and Matic looks a shadow of his former self. Why? That’s for Hiddink to find out. But if he can get this midfield pairing firing then Chelsea will benefit both defensively and from a creative point of view.
With first half of the Premier League season of 2015/16 all but completed, Chelsea have notched 18 goals. In the whole of the 2014/15 campaign they knocked in 72 goals; so it’s obvious that this is something that needs to change….and fast.
The big issue is Diego Costa of course, and he – along with Loic Remy and Falcao – has contributed just one league goal so far.
Whether Hiddink will be given funds to ‘explore’ the January transfer market remains to be seen, but a team cannot go from the best in the land to not even the best in West London in the space of six months without further investigation.
Chelsea fans will be hoping that Hiddink can get to the bottom of things sooner rather than later.