Chelsea extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to 12 games with a 2-1 victory over struggling Norwich City at Carrow Road on Tuesday. This victory propels the Blues into the top half of the table for the first time since August.
There has been a marked improvement in results since the arrival of Guus Hiddink in December to replace Jose Mourinho as manager. The move may have raised many eyebrows at the time, but what has transpired since can hardly leave the Chelsea fans with too many complaints.
The top 4 still remains a distant and unlikely target, with Manchester City in fourth currently 8 points ahead with two games in hand. But there is little doubt that the stability that seemed completely lost at the start of the season is almost well and truly back.
A tough pill to swallow
It’s not easy for a Chelsea fan to agree with the sacking of Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese is revered, almost worshipped, at Stamford Bridge, for the all the glory he has brought during his time there. He delivered Chelsea’s first league title in 50 years, before following it up with another one the following season. Under him, the Blues became a true European powerhouse, with the pedigree of winners.
Upon his return in 2013, he weaved his magic again, using his first year to build the squad of his liking, one that completely dominated the Premier League title race in the 2014/15 campaign. This year, of course, it went utterly and horribly wrong for Mourinho as he saw his set of players underperforming to such a level that Chelsea found themselves in a relegation battle at one point. The management at the club gave him more time than they had ever given anybody, but their patience finally ran out in mid-December following a 9th league defeat of the season away at Leicester City.
The Chelsea players were clearly going through a run of dismal form in the first half of the season. Under the circumstances, it is clear that they needed a father-figure like Hiddink to lift their spirits. Mourinho is no man for sympathy, and his hard approach in hard times translated to further deteriorating results. The Dutchman has also not been shy to wring in the changes and give more chances to youngsters like Kennedy and Bertrand Traore.
Results didn’t improve right from the off, as they drew their first 4 home games while conceding goals freely. Slowly but surely though, things have changed. They have picked up 14 points from a possible 18 in their last 6 games, and only Spurs have a better record during this time. Their unbeaten run is also the longest one among any team in the Premier League at the moment.
Players like Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have seen a conspicuous comeback to form since Hiddink’s arrival. The former was struggling to get his act together in the first half of the season, has now scored 10 goals in 13 games in all competitions under the new manager. Fabregas looked jaded and listless under Mourinho, but is now running the midfield in every game.
A change for the good
The Chelsea fans were irate at Mourinho’s dismissal at the time. Despite their side’s dismal performance, they chose to put the blame on the players rather than the manager. Some even called for the entire squad to be sacked, and for the Special One to be given the opportunity to rebuild his team. In the end though, it was practicality that reigned supreme at the top of the hierarchy.
Jose is still one of the best managers in the world and will surely be back to manage of the top European clubs next season. His time at Chelsea will be remembered as one that was full of lofty ups and lowly downs, but never devoid of talking points.
For the Blues, the best way forward is to finish this season on a high and then bring in a manager for the long-term. They’ve tried that before and failed, (and thought Mourinho was just the one) but that shouldn’t stop them from trying once again.