Chelsea came away from Selhurst Park on Sunday with three points, three goals, and a three-nil win against Crystal Palace that showed not only the squad's quality but that we're still capable of putting in great tactical shift. Unlike under Mourinho, when such aims would entail a deep defensive line and a parked bus, Hiddink set up the team in a more positive manner.
"I have been here for three games plus a game I was in the stand. We have started working and of course there is a lot of quality in this squad - not just the first 11 but from one to 22 with some youngsters."
"If the team hasn't been doing well for a long period then it is important to look for security. That's why we emphasized on good, hard work in a tactical defensive way. I don't like to see a team drop back very far and seek false security but to look forward and get the ball forward as soon as possible. When they get the ball they know how to play."
Hiddink spoke negatively on Monday about the team's tendency to drop too far back (as witnessed in the first half against Manchester United), so it would appear we're taking his tactical instructions on board. Though no doubt our plans were helped by key absentees Yohan Cabaye in the middle and speedsters Bolasie and Gayle in attack.
In addition to tactics, Hiddink also emphasized the squad's improving attitudes, which has been a constant theme since his arrival.
"We don't need to add a lot to the quality of the players. They are blessed by nature with a big quality but they have to know that when things are not going well, you have to look for the causes."
"That's why the very talented players started working on the dirty work and not just the beautiful game - because this league is very demanding and if you think you can do it just on your natural quality this league will kill you."
"The attitude is okay and automatically their quality comes through. The efficiency of this quality in the past half-year has been very low. We talked about that, we did it in training - small conversations - but if they have this quality and the team is well organised they must produce and then we can enjoy how they play."
Instead of going with the usual Matic-Fàbregas pivot pairing from the past one-and-a-half seasons, Guus Hiddink decided to start veteran Blues midfielder, and one of the last holdovers from his first term as interim manager, John Obi Mikel alongside the Spaniard in today's match. The experiment worked marvelously.
"[Mikel] played very well as he also did in the previous games. He's the ideal player in my opinion to bring balance to the team. If the team is not willing to defend well or have the right balance then you concede a lot of goals. I thought John Obi can be one of the key figures in getting the balance back. On top of that the talented players can then explore their qualities."
"He can recover the radar. He knows the game very well. He knows where the strength of the opponent is and he knows exactly how to cope with that. He has a very good eye, a very good nose, and a very good sense of where to recover."
"He doesn't do it in a very brutal way - he's very, very elegant. What I like to see very much is not just a quality player but a player who can defend so smoothly. It's beautiful to see. He doesn't lose many balls, he's good in short passing. I don't expect and I don't ask him to make the decisive final pass. He can but no, we let the other players do that."
Hiddink's reliance on Mikel, a known quantity to the manager one would presume, should be an interesting development to keep an eye on. We had assumed that no proper Chelsea midfield could exist without Nemanja Matić, but perhaps the big SPIDERBEAST is not as indispensable as some of us had thought.
Enjoying a solid defensive performance from his midfield partner, Cesc Fàbregas was free to conjure a rare good performance as well, earning praise even from Palace manager Alan Pardew after the game. To Hiddink, Fàbregas and any other creative player in the team can flourish as long as Chelsea remain balanced. Having balance in the squad is of course not a new idea, but for whatever reason, we haven't seen it in effect too often this season.
"He performed as he can and as we like to see him. He is good with his short passing, very smart with the final pass and that's the Fàbregas we like to see. It's possible to have three very creative players but in this league, which is one of the most competitive leagues in the world, it's difficult. That's why we looked for the balance [and played Mikel]."
The bad note of today's performance was Eden Hazard injuring himself after trying a long-range shot in the first ten minutes of the game. The results from the self-afflicted injury will only be known tomorrow after an MRI scan.
"He slipped, spread his legs and he has a little problem with a muscle inside his groin. We'll see tomorrow with the MRI scan how damaged it is."
-Guus Hiddink; Source: Chelsea FC
Excluding Hazard's ongoing bad luck in the last few months, Chelsea showed a lot of promise against a Crystal Palace side that had been one of the hottest teams in the league. While it's unlikely that this Chelsea side will dominate every opponent going forward, the hope remains that we can finally get on a good run towards the top positions in the league and in the upcoming cup competitions — FA Cup starts next weekend!