Still a big task ahead for Hiddink

Diego Costa scoring the opening goal against Watford. Guus Hiddink's first match in charge of the Blues ended in a 2-2 draw.
Diego Costa scoring the opening goal against Watford. Guus Hiddink's first match in charge of the Blues ended in a 2-2 draw.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

But he can take heart that Costa is back on scoresheet after a brace in tie against Watford

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Chelsea 2
Watford 2

LONDON • Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink has maintained that finishing top four in the Premier League remains a possibility.

A 2-2 draw against Watford in his first match in charge of the Blues this season, with Oscar missing an 80th-minute penalty, has made that aim much harder to achieve.

The champions remain 15th in the table, with 19 points after 18 games - 13 points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.

Regardless of how Chelsea finish in the league, however, the Dutchman is still hoping this campaign ends with a treble. Speaking before yesterday's game, he said: "Generally, I set targets: Because, mathematically, it is still possible, one is to get into fourth position.

"And then there is the Champions League and the FA Cup. We have two or three targets still to go for. On top of that - or as a foundation of that - they must show now what they are capable of. As a consequence, then, (if they do that) they will go to those targets."

While some would call Hiddink's targets ambitious, he does have a similar experience to fall back on.

In his first interim spell at Chelsea, from February to May 2009, Hiddink lost just once in 22 games.

He won 16, including victory against Everton at Wembley to lift the FA Cup.

Chelsea also reached the Champions League semi-finals, where they lost to eventual champions Barcelona, and finished third in the league.

"We didn't even lose to Barcelona in the semis," recalled Hiddink, having lost on the away goals rule.

To have any hope of ending this season on a positive note, the 69-year-old knows that he will need striker Diego Costa to regain his form.

The Spain international showed some signs of doing so with a brace at Stamford Bridge yesterday.

Costa's contribution was so significant when the London club claimed the title in his first season in English football but he has been a snarling presence too often in this campaign. The forward has contributed only nine goals for club and country since mid-January, twice incurring retrospective bans from the Football Association for incidents on the field. He publicly argued with Jose Mourinho on the stroke of half-time in the Champions League win over Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Costa was left out of the games against Tottenham Hotspur, when he flung his bib petulantly towards the coaching staff after completing a half-hearted touchline warm-up, and Bournemouth.

He was one of those singled out for catcalls last Saturday.

"I've worked with him a few days and in the past I've seen him on television a few times," said the interim boss of the £32 million (S$67.4 million) signing from Atletico Madrid.

"What I experienced in the last few days, and with the last game I watched last weekend, he was in control. He was focused more on what he is hired for here, which is to help to score or assist and not go into 'other' things. I think he was well controlled when I experienced him over the last days. I cannot have any complaints about him."

Hiddink is aware of Costa's disciplinary issues and his aggressive style. However, he can also empathise with the player's frustration at being left out under Mourinho, who was sacked last week .

"Diego is clearly an emotional guy and there was something with a bib which I read about, too," he said.

"But I understand that (frustration). I remember a long time ago when I was a player, captaining my club team, and I was subbed.

"The manager substituted me at half-time saying I hadn't done well enough. I thought I'd performed OK so I ripped off my armband and threw it at him: 'You make a new captain.' It was also an emotional reaction born of frustration.

"What Diego did was a sign of frustration. Sportsmen are allowed to show a bit of emotion but they must know, five or 10 seconds later, that they were wrong."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 27, 2015, with the headline 'STILL A BIG TASK AHEAD FOR HIDDINK'. Print Edition | Subscribe