LONDON • Guus Hiddink has challenged his Chelsea flops to rediscover the winning formula as they start the new year with a tricky trip to Crystal Palace today.
His side have drawn with Watford and Manchester United since the Dutchman returned for his second spell as Chelsea interim manager. That those two workmanlike performances were regarded as cause for encouragement shows just how far the champions had fallen during the miserable final days of Jose Mourinho's troubled reign.
In a reversal of fortune that would have seemed remarkable at the end of last season when Chelsea were hoisting the Premier League trophy after beating Palace, Alan Pardew's fifth-placed Eagles are now 11 points above the 14th-placed Blues.
Hiddink knows Chelsea need to improve quickly, while a winning run to start the new year would also lay a strong foundation for salvaging the season with success in the Champions League and FA Cup.
"We have started gathering some points. It (the draw with United) was the third consecutive game we didn't lose but that's not enough," Hiddink said. "We must come now in to a winning period of games, that's important."
In contrast to Chelsea's woes, Palace, so long one of London's lesser lights, now harbour genuine hopes of securing just the second European berth in their history.
Pardew's men are unbeaten in their last six matches and are unlikely to have any inferiority complex against Chelsea, having defeated them twice in their last four meetings, including a 2-1 success at Stamford Bridge earlier this season.
Hiddink is well aware of the threat posed by tenacious Palace.
"Crystal Palace are doing well. Alan Pardew has done a marvellous job in the period he has been working there," said the 69-year-old.
"If you look at the statistics, you have a team that have scored 23 goals in 19 games and just conceded 16, which means he is well organised with his team."
Chelsea striker Diego Costa is back from suspension and England defender Gary Cahill should be available after an ankle problem.
Hiddink has backed Costa to cope with the pressure of being the club's only available senior striker, as Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao remain sidelined by injury.
"Diego is able to play all these games," said Hiddink. "He's brave and he likes to do so.
"He has a big temper and wants to perform and is keen to score, but the other attacking players must play a part in assists and goals."
Midfielder Cesc Fabregas has been passed fit after missing the match at United with a fever. The interim manager also got behind the under-fire Spaniard, who has been widely blamed for the champions' dramatic slump in form this season.
"We are now focusing too much on Cesc regarding this," he said. "The whole team weren't doing well until December.
"When you look at the goals conceded, that's not just our defence that is not good enough.
"It's not just the defensive players. It's the whole team's performance, defensively and offensively.
"I don't want to focus on just one player who might need a bit more strength or whatever to get back into shape."
CRYSTAL PALACE V CHELSEA
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