Chelsea’s recovery under Guus Hiddink began over the busy Christmas period with a pair of draws: 2-2 at home to Watford and 0-0 away to Manchester United.
On the face of it, the United draw looks much the better result, but a quick glance at the Premier League table reveals that Watford is just one point below the sixth-place Red Devils at the midway point in a strange season.
Chelsea, of course, is 14th—and a measly three points above the relegation zone with 20 points after 19 games. When you multiply that total by two, you get 40, which is usually the magic number for a Premier League team to scrape past relegation.
Though few still expect the Blues to be a true candidate for relegation come the end of the season, it’s astonishing to see last season’s champ so perilously close to bottom of the table at the season’s halfway point. In a way, the domestic collapse of such a big club is eerily similar to Jurgen Klopp’s final season at Borussia Dortmund -- of course the main difference here is that Jose Mourinho has already lost his job after guiding the Blues to nine losses in the club’s first 16 games.
With that in mind, five points from three games isn’t a terrible beginning for Hiddink -- even if he wasn’t technically in charge of the first game against Sunderland (a 3-1 win at home). For a team averaging 1.05 points per game thus far this season, Chelsea will certainly take 1.8 points per game since the end of the Mourinho era.
To be sure, Chelsea’s senior players, who seemed to lose their collective voice under the Portuguese, sounded upbeat about the new atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. “We’ve moved on and the atmosphere has improved since the change of manager,” midfielder John Obi Mikel said. “It’s fine now, we’ve just not been getting results. José is a fantastic manager and will always be a fantastic guy. But sometimes football is a cruel game and you have to move on. He came back to the club a second time and won two trophies but now he’s gone and we have to move on. Is it the right decision? Who knows? We’ll only see in the future.”
Meanwhile, captain John Terry, speaking after the Blues’ 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, took encouragement from the fact that Chelsea players seemed to be trying harder: "I think the desire and the effort was spot on,” the former England international said. “The work-rate was different class throughout the whole starting eleven.” He continued: “But more importantly I just want to say thank you to the fans. I think we owed them that performance and I think they can slowly see the tide turning and us putting in performances and getting results.”
What an astonishing admission from the team’s senior players! As if it weren’t abundantly clear from the performances themselves, Mikel and Terry both just admitted that the team’s desire was basically gone under Mourinho—that the players hadn’t wanted to perform. Mikel then noted further that though HIddink “hasn’t changed much yet”, three games without losing gives the team confidence that it’s making the “right steps.”
So, is Chelsea really on the road to recovery? In a way, yes, but 1.8 points per game isn’t going to get the Blues back into the top four. To do that, they need to realistically shoot for 2.3-2.5 points per game, which—this season, especially—looks a tall order, indeed.
So, though the Blues may have stopped the rot by getting rid of Mourinho, Terry admits that a top-four finish "this year it's probably too far to go.”
Indeed, it probably is.