Several factors are combining to make this yet another impossible-to-predict Chelsea match, at least as far as the starting lineup is concerned. Not only do have a new head coach, we're facing an extremely busy period in the season, which alone should result in some squad rotation. After Saturday, Chelsea will be back in action on Monday already.
The beginning of the second Hiddink interim era supposedly provides a fresh start for all the players, too, including a few youngsters from the academy (Musonda, Musonda, Musonda, you can hear the whispers everywhere). The slate is wiped clean, as long as they player has the "desire" to compete. Mourinho's assessments, preferences, favorites, who-knows-what-elses are a thing of the past. We saw this principle in action in 2009, too, when Hiddink restored to the starting lineup Didier Drogba, who had spent most of the season up to that point on the sidelines either injured, or not fit, or simply not preferred by Scolari. Who will be Hiddink's Drogba this time around? (Other than Drogba himself joining the staff.)
Complicating Hiddink's job is the traditional festive period fixture congestion. Chelsea will be walking out onto the Old Trafford pitch on Monday less than 48 hours removed from Saturday's Watford visit to Stamford Bridge. Surely, even in the best of times, this would require a fair amount of squad rotation. Do we go all out in the first match, to ensure the points at home? Do we save some of the bigger names for Monday's huge clash? Decisons, decisions...
And then there's the question of formation and strategy. In his last job, just as he had at Chelsea the first time, Hiddink preferred the 4-3-3 centered around a target-man up to (Klass-Jan Huntelaar in this case) and a strong presence in the middle of the pitch. Mourinho had been wedded to the 4-2-3-1, but Hiddink could very well look to fix our midfield issues by beefing up the number of players rather than hoping for Matic & Co to rediscover their form.
As always, we can probably assume few things fairly easily. Thibaut Courtois and Willian should continue to start. Up top, with Watford likely to present in two banks of four, Diego Costa should be the better choice over the faster, more direct Loïc Rémy. With Hazard just back in training, he'll probably be reduced to just a cameo substitute appearance. Assuming a three-man forward line, Willian and Pedro could fill the wide forward roles where Anelka, Malouda, and Kalou once thrived. Oscar was in similarly great form last weekend; could he finally be tried again in a deeper role? Or would he, alongside the likes of Ramires, be saved for Monday? In defense, with Hiddink already the man responsible for establishing Branislav Ivanović at Chelsea, I'd expect the vice-captain to play and keep Cesar Azpilicueta confined to the left flank or the bench.
Depending on how much we're accounting for fatigue ahead of Monday's Manchester United — which, if we are, then could result in more youth than usual against Watford — here's my, no doubt well off the mark lineup prediction:
Courtois | Baba, Cahill, Zouma, Ivanović | Loftus-Cheek, Matic, Fàbregas | Pedro, Costa, Willian
Meanwhile, the community's preferred lineup has a fairly familiar look.
Courtois | Azpilicueta, Terry, Zouma, Ivanović | Loftus-Cheek, Matic | Hazard, Oscar, Willian | Rémy