LONDON • Guus Hiddink claimed that he has lifted Chelsea's spirits and improved the team's tactics and defensive organisation since succeeding Jose Mourinho.
The interim manager has not won either of his two matches in charge, having watched the 3-1 win over Sunderland from the stands at Stamford Bridge, but insisted that he is happy with the progress he is making following Monday's goalless draw against Manchester United.
His words cast further light on the state of the dressing room that he inherited from Mourinho after a claim by Michael Emenalo, the technical director, that there was "palpable discord" between the former manager and his players.
The 69-year-old claimed to have lifted the players' spirits in only a handful of training sessions after walking into a difficult situation, in which his first job was to improve their morale.
His most damning observation was the revelation that after his input, the players are now convinced that they must sacrifice themselves for the team.
"We have to look and consider the situation where Chelsea was or is, and now we're three games in," Hiddink said. "What is important is the boys experienced a very bad half-year and we have to lift it up. That is what we talked about inside the locker room. Starting with Sunderland and Watford, and now the team know what to do.
"Tactically we were OK and the defence was organised. We didn't have the full power to hurt, but everyone is convinced they have to do their full best for the team. I think it is normal to see that character and the desire, but they showed a lot of ambition as well."
He cited Eden Hazard's hard-working performance in an unfamiliar role as a centre-forward as an example of Chelsea's improved spirit. The Belgium playmaker has not scored for the club since May 1, but having faded during the final days of Mourinho's regime, he worked tirelessly at Old Trafford in the absence of the suspended Diego Costa and the injured Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao.
"Everyone knows we have some problems in our striker's position due to suspension and injuries, and we had to think how to solve that," Hiddink said. "We did it with Hazard. He has done it before and is capable to do that because he is a very versatile player.
"I am pleased we had two open options in the second half with Nemanja Matic shooting. United were pressing but not creating a lot of chances, and I think the two best chances were the saves by both goalkeepers, tremendous saves by David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois.
"Everyone is convinced that after one year of winning the championship and a lousy half-year, Chelsea could not carry on going on the same path and that is what they have shown in the last three games."
THE TIMES, LONDON