Hiddink eyes perfect home run

The Dutchman, still undefeated since taking over, won't give up hope of a top-four spot

LONDON • Chelsea's slender hopes of challenging for a top-four finish in the Premier League hinge on them enjoying a perfect record at Stamford Bridge, according to their interim manager.

After dropping two points at home already this week in a 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion, Guus Hiddink's side have little margin for error when they host Everton today.

But the Dutchman maintains that, as long as there is a mathematical chance, claiming a place in next season's Champions League will be the club's target. And the belief that he might oversee a dramatic transformation in Chelsea's fortunes during the second half of the season has been gathering pace during his first three weeks in charge.

Results have improved - Chelsea are undefeated in six games since Jose Mourinho was sacked before Christmas, five of those with Hiddink at the helm - and, more importantly, so too have performances.

But against West Brom, the flaws that were present during their dismal first half of the season resurfaced, with the Blues guilty of conceding two sloppy goals and Diego Costa once again apparently intent on staging a running battle with his opponents.

  • CHELSEA V EVERTON

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  • 1 Number of away Everton defeats this season

If they are to recover and beat Everton, the London club must demonstrate more steel to match the enterprise they occasionally showed going forward against West Brom.

For Blues goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, the goals scored by Albion typified the difference between this season and last, when Chelsea dominated games for long periods on their way to the title.

"They were unlucky and that's the position we are in at the moment," he said.

"They were goals maybe last year we didn't concede because we were up top, and now they are the kind of goals you concede because you are down there.

"We have Everton now, which will be a difficult game but we have to fight for every game and point."

Everton have lost just one league game away from home all season and have let in only nine goals on their travels.

In addition, they have drawn more Premier League matches - 10 so far - than any other team. So, perhaps Everton's 0-0 draw at Manchester City this week should not have come as a surprise.

Roberto Martinez's men are hard to beat, but they do not win enough either; the consensus among the club's supporters is that a team containing the talents of John Stones, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and Romelu Lukaku should be higher than 11th in the table.

Having conceded seven times in home defeats by Leicester and Stoke at Christmas, their defence is looking more solid following the return of Phil Jagielka after two months out with a knee injury.

The captain has been key to successive clean sheets, against Dagenham and Redbridge in the FA Cup and at City in the league.

"I'm still trying to find a bit of match sharpness," Jagielka said.

"This was only my second 90 minutes in about three months. The games are going to come thick and fast now, we've got Chelsea away on Saturday, so it'll be an interesting couple of weeks or so."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'HIDDINK EYES PERFECT HOME RUN'. Print Edition | Subscribe