OF all the qualities Guus Hiddink has brought to Chelsea since he took up his fire-fighting role in February, the most valuable is that he has helped rediscover the art of winning.
The Dutch manager has introduced a tactical nous that had previously been missing. On other occasions, such as last night, he has encouraged in his side the determination and sheer bloody-mindedness that was once so evident under Jose Mourinho.
And as a result, he is now one step closer towards an improbable treble.
The odds would, of course, be stacked heavily against the London club achieving such an unprecedented feat even if they didn’t have to face such daunting challenges.
A semi-final against Barcelona would intimidate any team whilst Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final pitches Hiddink’s side against an Arsenal team unbeaten in 18 league games. And were it not for Manchester United’s recent wobbles, they would be given little chance or closing the four-point gap.
But with Hiddink at the helm, Chelsea have discovered depths that were hidden under layers of disharmony, tactical flabbiness and poor organisation. In the second half of last night’s game they transformed a potential humiliation into a swaggering triumph, despite Petr Cech being a dithering shadow of the goalkeeper who was the foundation of Chelsea’s triumphs under Mourinho. Just as he was against Bolton Wanderers last Saturday, Cech was a mess of nerves and indecision, horribly culpable for Fabio Aurelio’s opening goal and lacking conviction throughout. Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry and Leo Messi will be licking their lips.
Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona coach, will also have noted with relish the ease with which Liverpool were able to pressurise Cech’s goal when Chelsea adopted a policy of containment and the decision to replace Salomon Kalou with Nicolas Anelka after 35 minutes was a stark admission by Hiddink that he had got it wrong.
Admittedly it took the half-time break for the Dutchman to inject the vigour and urgency needed to deflate Liverpool who went a long way towards dispelling the myth that without Steven Gerrard, they are nothing. But having turned his side around, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard became unstoppable. That is exactly the approach they need to adopt from the start, in both legs, against a Barcelona side hardly known for their caution. The tie should be a classic.
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