Chelsea secured a fine 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace on Sunday that indicated that their terrible league form, which had left them in a relegation battle despite winning the Premier League title just eight months ago, is finally over.
This was the first victory for Guus Hiddink, at the third time of asking after a home draw with Watford was followed by a goalless away stalemate with Manchester United, and it was arguably their best win of the season.
Chelsea are now six points clear of the relegation zone, but what will be more impressive to Hiddink, who is in his second spell in charge at Stamford Bridge, is the manner of the victory.
Crystal Palace had a few half chances before Chelsea took the lead. This goal came in the 29th minute when Diego Costa had been put through in on goal. But despite having a clear opportunity to have a shot on goal, Costa decided to pull it back in a precise fashion for the encroaching Oscar to hit home.
Chelsea then had a firm hand on the contest and began to dominate possession. They finally doubled their lead in the 60th minute when Willian, who has arguably been Chelsea’s best player all season, smashed home a shot from 25 yards out.
Chelsea soon had a swagger about their play, and just six minutes later they had confirmed their victory when Diego Costa tapped home after the impressive Willian’s cross-cum-shot had been parried by Wayne Hennessy.
But rather than being overly excited about Chelsea’s victory, which was their first since December 19, when a manager-less Chelsea overcame Sunderland 3-1, Hiddink was calm and insisted that fans and everyone else at the club should keep their feet firmly on the ground.
“Do not go over the top, it is the first win after a worrying period with two draws so the team desperately needed the win and it was convincing,” Hiddink explained to BBC. “Everyone knows we have a lot of quality in our team, but sometimes champions have a tendency to be complacent and it can be difficult to get back and then wonder why we were champions.”
But do Chelsea actually have a chance of finishing in the top four of the Premier League, which would then allow them to qualify for the Champions League? Well, it’s going to be a huge ask for Guus Hiddink’s team to do so since Chelsea are now 13 points behind Tottenham.
It also doesn’t help Chelsea’s cause that they have had three victories this season – specifically against Arsenal, Aston Villa, and Norwich – that suggested they would soon find form again. However these proved to be false dawns.
Speaking in the same interview after the contest, Hiddink refused to get caught up in the discussion about whether or not Chelsea could claw this points deficit back.
“There is a long way to go,” Hiddink remarked. “Mathematically the possibility of Champions League is still there. The league is so strong but as long as we play like we did today I will be happy.”
Chelsea’s next string of Premier League matches will help to prove if they are actually back to their best, as they have a home contest with Tony Pulis’ solid West Bromwich Albion outfit on Wednesday 13 January. They follow it up with another home contest against Everton, and then they travel to top of the table Arsenal at the end of the month.
It also won’t help Chelsea’s cause that one of their star-players of last season, Eden Hazard – who has been in insipid form this campaign – hobbled off injured against Crystal Palace. Despite his problems over the last few months, Hazard is still regarded as one of the Premier League’s best players.
[Image via Getty/Ian Walton]