Chelsea revival to shoot Blues past Man United by end of season
Even the most glass-half-full type of Chelsea fans couldn’t have imagined their team would be in with a shout of catching, let alone leapfrogging, those occupying European places when their club was hurtling towards a Special One-supernova in early December.
Back then, the Chelsea universe was truly imploding. Defeat at Leicester on December 14 capped off an unprecedentedly dismal run of results for any Blues side in Premier League history, let alone the reigning champions.
It was a fifth loss in seven top-flight games and a ninth in 16 overall that finally condemned Jose Mourinho to his second sacking as Chelsea manager, with the Stamford Bridge occupants hovering a point above the relegation zone seven days before Christmas.
However dramatic and controversial the purge was viewed, though, the strength of the recovery since Mourinho’s exit renders the decision to bring in Guus Hiddink for a second stint as an excellent one in very difficult circumstances.
Not a single league loss has been added to that oversubscribed column over 10 matches.
Meanwhile serene progress to the FA Cup quarter-finals, albeit against an under-strength Manchester City line-up, gave further notice of Chelsea’s evolution under Hiddink.
Now up to 12th in a concertinaed table, the gap to Liverpool in eighth position has shrunk to just five points, while Manchester United are not beyond the Chelsea tractor beam at all, sat just three points ahead of their arch rivals in fifth.
Only notoriously-streaky Southampton in sixth, revelling in a gluttonous spell of point collecting which surely cannot last, are in better form than Hiddink’s men (points wise) right up until you reach Arsenal in third.
All of a sudden, Ladbrokes’ specially requested price of 9/2 that Chelsea achieve the previously unthinkable mission of finishing above Man United, is as investable as Levi Roots and his Reggae Reggae sauce was in an early series of Dragon’s Den.
After bitterly disappointing defeats to relegation-threatened Sunderland and FC Midtjylland in the Europa League, a 3-0 win at League One Shrewsbury in the FA Cup has done nothing to dissuade Louis van Gaal’s army of haters he is the right man to lead United forward.
Such levels of scrutiny from fans and media alike don’t seem able to produce an atmosphere conducive to success for LVG’s men.
The loss of talisman Wayne Rooney to injury recently, in his finest form all season, is simply another black mark against United’s chances of a happy run in.
Compare that to the fresh air Hiddink has got breezing around Stamford Bridge, which has worked wonders for top scorer Diego Costa in particular, and the only direction Chelsea seem to be heading is up as the season unfolds.