When Guus Hiddink was appointed as Chelsea manager for the second occasion, Chelsea's results began to improve. As the cultivated Dutchman often mentions, he inherited a team that were languishing in 16th position, a position that isn't reflective of the players' ability nor the extent of Chelsea's affluent resources. And yet, despite the supposed normality that Hiddink has reinstated at the club - a view largely presented by the media - has Chelsea truly improved under Hiddink, or has the 'improvement' been masked by our unbeaten league run?
Under Hiddink's experienced guidance, the Blues have risen 6 positions in the league. The 68-year-old also flaunts a reputable league record of 14 games unbeaten. Chelsea's current league run equals the longest undefeated run of the current Premier League season. Yet, the Pensioners have reached mid-March, and for the first time under Abramovich's opulent ownership, the Blues have been eliminated from every competition, and Chelsea's title challenge was over a long time ago.
The fanciful ambitions of European and Domestic glory were concluded in turbulent fashion. Firstly, the Champions of England were unable to withstand the might of PSG. Most recently, a Romelu Lukaku inspired Everton, dismantled a gutless Chelsea team. With 8 league games remaining, the possibility of a top-six finish represents the club's sole hope of success - albeit an trophy-less achievement. Yet, even the revised target of Europa League football appears to be impractical.
The Blues are currently positioned 4 places and 6 points adrift of sixth place, but Manchester United do have a game in hand. To exacerbate Chelsea's slim hopes of European Football, Hiddink's men still have to face Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Leicester. Four prodigious fixtures that could influence the table's structure enormously. It might be rather idealistic to suggest that the Blues - on the basis of their current form - could achieve European Football.
As previously mentioned, the Champions do exhibit a respectable unbeaten run of 14 games. However, this current record is relatively misleading. Only 6 of those fourteen games have been victories, with only one victory registered at Stamford Bridge. The other eight fixtures have been draws. Admittedly, this record does constitute recognizable progress from when Hiddink assumed managerial duties, yet the improvement hasn't been as vast as many would have envisaged.
Chelsea's home record is especially uninspiring. In seven league games at Stamford bridge Chelsea have recorded 9 league points out of a possible 21. In eight league games under Mourinho's guidance the Blues achieved 10 points out of a possible 24. The Special One is able to parade two more victories than his successor, and another draw at Stamford Bridge would see Hiddink match Mourinho's run - a record that led to his dismissal.
In contrasting fashion, Chelsea's away record is far more desirable. The Champions of England have won 4 games away from Stamford Bridge, drawing the other 2. This is, undoubtedly, definite improvement from when Mourinho was at the helm. The Blues had lost 7 away games, drawing 2, and failed to register a single victory.
Looking at the league record in its entirety, the improvement experienced under Hiddink isn't as substantial as many have reported. Prior to the Dutchman's appointment, Chelsea were averaging 0.9 points per league fixture, scoring 1.1 goals per game and conceding 1.6. In the 14 games following Hiddink's appointment, Chelsea's points per game tally has doubled to 1.86. Additionally, the Blues are scoring more frequently with a tally of 1.93 goals per game. The amount of goals conceded has decreased marginally to 1 per game.
However, half of the opposition have been teams currently positioned in the bottom-half of the table, and Chelsea still have to face four teams in the top-half of the Barclays Premier League table, three of which are currently in the top 4. If Chelsea are to maintain their current form they will accumulate an additional 15 points (14.88) which would see them finish on 56 points. Over the duration of the previous 5 seasons, the average points for a team who finished 6th has been 63 points (63.2).
The highest points tally was achieved by Tottenham Hotspur in the 2013/14 season, in which they amassed 69 points. The lowest total was achieved by Liverpool in the 2010/11 season, in which they amassed 58 points. Unless Chelsea manage to engender a series of victories, it is increasingly likely that Chelsea will play the 2016/17 season devoid of European participation.
Thus, making Conte's challenge considerably strenuous when/if he arrives.
If the club enter preparations for the 2016/17 season without European Football, then the task of acquiring prestigious talents will be substantially harder. In accordance, the task of retaining players will also be more difficult given that the club would have lost it's involvement in European Football - a prize that seems to be the decisive factor in contemporary transfer negotiations.
The truth is palpable, despite the attacking resurgence that Chelsea have experienced - Diego Costa has scored 11 goals in all competitions since Hiddink's appointment, the highest total out of any striker in the BPL during the same period. The Blues' defensive frailties have persisted, and they've been consistently exposed - this perhaps is best epitomized by our record against Everton, a team that we have conceded 5 goals in the space of two games.
Perhaps it was fanciful to think that Hiddink could have engineered a dramatic revival, especially whilst considering the quality of the performances produced this season. Yet, this is the same team that won the league so convincingly last season. Hiddink is also a manger of great repute, his knowledge and experience of the game is amongst the very best. And still, the Blues look destined to lose out on European Football. We were also conquered by the superiority of PSG and hopes of emulating 2009's success was diminished by a subordinate Everton side.
Chelsea's season has been woeful and significant changes are required if the club are to return to our previous distinction.