Guus Hiddink at odds with reality over Chelsea relegation fears
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | January 15, 2016
If you want to see a classic case of managing expectations (and what a business catchphrase-come-cliche that is), then look no further than interim Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink’s latest press conference.
Nobody ever thought the defending Premier League champions – we won’t be able to refer to them as such for much longer – would be in a relegation battle, but Blues boss Hiddink identifies the Stamford Bridge’s side current plight thus.
When asked about it by journalists, he responded: “It’s reality [possibly going down]; we have two difficult games coming up. If you don’t gather points there, you don’t know what the others do. The Premier League can surprise you.”
Are Blues beleaguered?
Hiddink a harbinger of doom? Tough tests against Everton and Arsenal in the Premier League may be coming up, but the betting does not support his assertion.
Coral make Chelsea considerable 100/1 outsiders for relegation. There’s supposedly no such thing as too good to go down, but this club is the exception to that rule.
The Blues are not a boom and bust outfit as Leeds United were a dozen years ago, nor has there been a steady decline like at Aston Villa.
Lethargy lies at origin of hard times
Stamford Bridge struggles are a story that starts with resting on their laurels following a Premier League and Capital One Cup double last term.
Jose Mourinho then made high-profile errors of judgement; the Eva Carneiro debacle followed by very public criticism of players – some of whom he reportedly told he rued not selling after that successful 2014/15 season.
Leaving Chelsea a point above the relegation zone in December, the advantage is now six under Hiddink, but he is looking over his shoulder in a bid to curtail talk of steering the side to a top four finish.
Hiddink rhetoric against his history
“There are 12 points difference to fourth place, which is Tottenham,” Hiddink added. “We all like to look forward and to the top of the table, but also don’t be unrealistic – you’re six points off the line of relegation. That’s also a fact.
Words that ring hollow. This is a manager used to the biggest and toughest jobs in club football since cementing his reputation way back in 1988 by guiding PSV Eindhoven to the European Cup.
Hiddink has also taken his own country, the Netherlands, to the business end of tournaments a decade or so later during his first spell, and made his mark on South Korean, Australian and Russian football positively.
Semi-final appearances at World Cups and Euros are much more the stuff of Hiddink than a relegation scrap.
Odds suggest threat exaggerated
It’s a thinly veiled attempt at using the media to create a smokescreen that shields Chelsea during what admittedly is a tough couple of upcoming assignments, and punters should see through it.
Were the Blues in true peril from the threat of the drop, we would be seeing Eden Hazard packing his bags and heading for Real Madrid, but not for the astronomical £80m bandied about in the tabloids.
Continuing Champions League participation and another potential FA Cup run under Hiddink apart, this Premier League season is a write-off for sure, yet Chelsea are tagged with a vastly higher likelihood of getting a top four place at 9/1.
Punters may feel, with so many teams ahead of the Blues needing to drop plenty of points, that such a price is no less fanciful than Chelsea going down. What about a top six finish instead, then, at a tempting 3/1?
Only 10 points to make up in 17 matches on a plethora of sides all missing some essential ingredients to meet respective objectives.
Baggies and Saints can be bettered
West Bromwich Albion and Southampton are the teams that Hiddink has to immediately overhaul, starting some three points behind. Here the Blues find themselves competing with mid-table stock experiencing similar problems from different angles.
At the Baggies, Tony Pulis has a player – in star striker Saido Berahino – that has clearly done his talking on the pitch about no longer wanting to be there, following summer interest from Spurs.
Saints boss Ronald Koeman, meanwhile, has taken a hard-line stance on the media proferring African duo Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama as better-suited to plugging respective gaps at Manchester United and Arsenal.
Koeman firmly insists his key players are staying put, but the St Mary’s side have been a selling club in recent transfer windows. Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers are compelling evidence of that, as they have already moved to the aforementioned teams touted for Mane and Wanyama.
So West Brom – a club stuck in the limbo of mid-table mediocrity – and Southampton, whose downturn in form has had an air of inevitability about it during Koeman’s second season, should hold no fear for Chelsea.
Toffees and Hornets could come unstuck
Everton and Watford are obstacles to a top half finish, though that betting market says otherwise with the Blues firmly odds-on at 2/9. Upcoming opponents the Toffees cannot keep a clean sheet for one, and on the rare occasions they do Roberto Martinez’s men seem to struggle to score.
Letting Romelu Lukaku leave the Bridge for Merseyside – when he was Didier Drogba’s anointed successor in all but name – still looks like a mistake, however kind history will be to Chelsea.
Big Belgium frontman Lukaku could come back to haunt his former club both in their next encounter and amid Hiddink’s Blues rescue mission for this campaign, should he continue to fire for Everton.
How well the Hornets have done under Quique Sanchez Flores, meanwhile. Among the favourites to go down before a Premier League ball was kicked this term, Watford’s awesome autumnal performances have actually been checked since they gained a creditable draw against Chelsea over Christmas.
Odion Ighalo’s goals have dried up; perhaps that’s the curse of the Premier League player of the month award for December striking, for those superstitious readers.
Hiddink has some inconsistent sides to slide past here, and that reflects the open playing styles adopted at Vicarage Road and Goodison Park. Both managers have domestic cup competition commitments to boot.
Look past Liverpool problems
Beyond the Toffees and Hornets are the former’s Meryseside rivals Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp has plenty of sorting wheat and chaff on his hands between now and the summer, when many pundits believe the German gaffer will bring about an Anfield revolution.
Ask any Reds supporter what their best XI is at the moment. It’s a melon-scratcher alright. Should Christian Benteke lead the attack as an old-fashioned centre forward with all those comparisons to Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush?
Isn’t Roberto Firmino functioning better as a false number nine than the Belgium frontman, though? Wouldn’t some natural width, Jordan Ibe apart, help Liverpool? Aren’t all their centre halves possessing the same attributes? The list goes on.
Klopp and the Kop have more questions than answers at present, so Chelsea could certainly take full advantage of that, leaving one of their traditional opponents when it comes to sizing Europe to try and figure it all out.
Overachievers will struggle to sustain spots
Crystal Palace, like the Reds, are also seven points ahead of Hiddink’s charges, but a new striker is essential if Alan Pardew is to keep them in and around the top six.
The Eagles’ boss bizarre U-turn over interest in free agent Emmanuel Adebayor is confusing. What has changed to make the Togolese frontman into a transfer target all of a sudden?
Is there a real danger doing a deal with Adebayor could have an adverse effect on team spirit at Selshurt Park? We’re talking about a player that has got consistently frozen out at other clubs.
That just leaves a Stoke City side lacking the attacking strength in depth beyond fantastic front four Ibrahim Afellay, Mark Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri to maintain themselves in the race, and Manchester United standing between the Blues and a top six finish.
One deficiency or another appears to be plaguing Louis van Gaal’s Red Devils. First they can’t score from open play and have fans streaming for the Old Trafford exits early, then they find a creative spark but forget how to defend.
Reasons to be cheerful
The upshot of all this analysis about Chelsea’s competitors is this; Hiddink is not alone when it comes to inheriting or experiencing problems. In this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons, you can place a question mark over every single side discussed.
West Ham United in fifth and Leicester City, who are flying even higher, will also do very well indeed with modest-sized squads to maintain their lofty positions. This is all to the good for Hiddink, who doesn’t need to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.
Back the Blues, not for relegation at 100/1 nor necessarily for a top four finish at 9/1, but to claim a spot among the top six at a tasty 3/1, because it is more believable than most Premier League bets on offer during a crazy campaign.