Hiddink the best thing to happen to Chelsea, says Gary Lim
Hiddink gamble has turned Chelsea around
(Diego Costa 13, Ruben Loftus-Cheek 68)
When Chelsea slipped into the quagmire under Jose Mourinho, owner Roman Abramovich knew exactly who he could rely on to steady the ship - Guus Hiddink.
The SOS was sent, accompanied by a rich contract no doubt, and the Dutchman agreed to help.
Three weeks on and the union is looking like a sound marriage.
A 2-0 win over Scunthorpe United in an FA Cup third-round match yesterday took Hiddink's unbeaten start in his second stint at Chelsea to four games.
A 13th-minute Diego Costa goal, which went in off a deflection by Scott Laird, got the English champions on their way before Ruben Loftus-Cheek completed the win with a composed finish after the break.
The victory widened the smile on the Chelsea fans, who went through the unfamiliar sensation of prolonged agony for five months before Hiddink's appointment.
The Dutchman has lifted the choking tension that engulfed the club, replacing it with purpose, cohesion and direction.
The Blues have finally turned the corner, putting an end one of the darkest periods in their recent history.
In the last days of Mourinho's second stint at the Bridge, the body language of the team never looked right.
It lent credence to reports of in-fighting between some senior players and the manager.
Of late, Chelsea have fought as one.
They are nowhere near their best, but the confidence is slowly returning, and once again they are beginning to display the teamwork and industry that have been trademarks of the club's success in recent years.
Hiddink's return was not a surprise. The 69-year-old former Holland coach was also parachuted into London as caretaker manager by Abramovich in 2009, following the departure of Luiz Felipe Scolari.
That first stint was so successful - they won the FA Cup, finished third in the Premiership and reached the Champions League semi-finals - that in the final home match of that season, the Chelsea fans chanted Hiddink's name throughout and urged the owner to sign him on a permanent basis.
The man they dubbed the "Golden Guus" is showing the same magic again by getting the Blues back on track.
The transformation of the team since his arrival has been remarkable, highlighted by Diego Costa's upturn in fortunes.
After scoring just four goals in the first 21 games (in all competitions), the Spaniard's goal last night meant that he had doubled his tally in just his last three matches.
Defender Gary Cahill, so meek and uncertain previously, turned in a dominant shift to suggest that his blip is over, improving his own Euro 2016 prospects with England.
Fellow centre back Kurt Zouma personified the reformed Chelsea best during one incident in the first half, when he sprinted back half the length of the pitch to make a crucial and inspired covering tackle when Scunthorpe threatened to equalise in a counter-attack.
Chelsea can be confident now that the worst is over.
If Hiddink can get the home fans to once again chant his name in their final home game of the campaign, he would have surpassed even Abramovich's expectations.
“We have these youngsters and I know them now after three or four weeks. When it’s an option, I don’t hesitate to bring them (into the team).”
— Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink on the contribution of young players like goalscorer Ruben Loftus-Cheek
BY THE NUMBERS
Ruben Loftus-Cheek's goal against Scunthorpe last night came from his first ever shot on target for Chelsea, in what is his 11th appearance for the Blues.