When Guus Hiddink joined Chelsea the club seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. The Scolari era over, fans and players were looking forward to the reign of the placid Dutchman, albeit only until the end of the season.
Petr Cech even suggested the club could go on to complete a treble of FA cup, League and European cup. Such claims seemed fanciful to say the least and smacked of a player trying to look on the bright side of things after a shocking 0-0 draw at home to Hull, a result that cost Luiz Felipe Scolari his job.
Several weeks on and those claims from Cech don’t seem so wistful. Indeed since the Dutchman’s arrival on the Chelsea ship he has steered it through the treacherous waters into the last eight of the Champions League where old foes Liverpool await.
He even has Manchester United looking over their shoulder uneasily. Even the remaining fixtures appear, an away game at Arsenal excepted, to be kind to Chelsea and Hiddink.
So what has Hiddink done?
He establishes exactly what he expects from the players and what they can expect from him. This is important in modern day football when dealing with millionaire players because any slight misunderstanding can lead to egos and differences bruised beyond repair, as Didier Drogba revealed in a newspaper article about life under Scolari.
For their part Manchester United appear unfazed by events at Stamford Bridge. Sir Alex Ferguson has a habit of wishing only to focus on his own team until the threat becomes so great he feels compelled to speak out. That time is yet to come.
Chelsea for their part have adapted so much to the Dutchman that only Arsenal stand in their way of an FA cup final, and if Manchester United can beat Everton at Wembley in the other semi final it will be a repeat of the final in 2007, which Chelsea won. Maybe then, with Chelsea being the only team to stand in their way of a domestic treble, Ferguson will try to muddy the Chelsea waters with a few choice comments.
Whether it will have the desired effect is doubtful. What Hiddink has done at Chelsea, like any trouble-shooter, is take stock of the inventory and played to the strengths of the players he has available and reverted to an old-fashioned English 4-4-2.
Problems persist in the wide areas of the field, the indifferent form of Florent Malouda and the injury to Joe Cole means he plays a midfield four without a wide player. He solved the problem of Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard by putting the German in a more defensive role, allowing Lampard to make runs into the penalty area without worrying about running back to defend.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the revival of Chelsea has everything to do with timing. Michael ‘The Bison’ Essien’s return from injury has given Hiddink the driving force and physical presence from midfield that Jon Mikel Obi, for all his competence, doesn’t provide.
The real question is can Manchester United handle the pressure that Chelsea has applied? Can they lead from the front? The answer is yes. Rewind to last year when under intense pressure United led from the front for the final months of the season to win the title by 2 points ahead of the blues. Currently the lead has been trimmed to 4 points but the squad is better than last year so expect Man Utd to top the summit once again.
Written by Phil Mellor from TrulyReds.com