LONDON • Guus Hiddink has conceded that Chelsea face a period of transition after they were eased out of the Champions League by a superior Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) team to leave the Dutchman's successor confronting life in exile from Europe's elite club competition.
The London club, currently 10 points off the top four in the English Premier League, are facing up to the probability of starting a campaign without Champions League football for the first time under Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich's ownership.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's winner in the 2-1 result on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge ensured PSG progressed 4-2 on aggregate, while Eden Hazard was booed upon being substituted in the second half and Diego Costa was rendered highly doubtful for tomorrow's FA Cup quarter-final at Everton with a recurrence of a tendon problem.
Hiddink admitted that the disgruntled supporters had the right to voice their dissent at Hazard, who had risked further riling fans by swopping shirts with Angel di Maria at half-time.
The Belgian, long courted by PSG, appeared to aggravate a long-standing hip complaint and hobbled from the fray 13 minutes from time.
We tried to do our first job, to get out of the (Premier League) relegation zone, but it was a very big gap to go and reach the top four.
GUUS HIDDINK, Chelsea's interim manager, on rescuing the Blues' domestic season and whether they can still secure Champions League qualification.
"They have the right to boo," said the interim manager.
"But he was having a bit of a problem with his injury on his hip. I'm aware of the shirt-swopping - and, yes, it should not be done. But in some countries, it's normal for people to do it."
That was in stark contrast to his predecessor Jose Mourinho's frustration at seeing Hazard conduct a post-match interview at Parc des Princes two years ago wearing a PSG shirt.
The future of last season's double Player of the Year, who is contracted until 2020, and those of other members of this squad are likely to be revisited over the coming months, as Chelsea seek to rebuild in an attempt to return to the Champions League in 2017-18.
That process will be conducted without the competition's lavish revenue stream next term and with scrutiny very much on the shortcomings of their player recruitment over the past few years.
"Chelsea are in a transition period," said Hiddink, who is expected to hand the reins to Italy coach Antonio Conte in the summer.
"They have to see how they go on and try and regain the lost terrain. We tried to do our first job, to get out of the (Premier League) relegation zone, but it was a very big gap to go and reach the top four."
PSG can contemplate a fourth successive Champions League quarter-final, their dominance very evident in this victory and capped by Ibrahimovic's 50th European goal and the one he created for Adrien Rabiot earlier in the game.
Meanwhile, Chelsea will limp into tomorrow's FA Cup tie at Goodison Park with a patched-up side and battered pride.
THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON