Guus Hiddink got his first win in charge of Chelsea on Sunday, as the Blues cruised to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
[ RECAP: Palace 0-3 Chelsea ]
Not only did the win move Chelsea six points clear of the relegation zone, but it was also their most complete performance of the season.
One of the star performers was John Obi Mikel, who started his second straight match for the Blues, both of which have resulted in clean sheets. Before Hiddink took over, Mikel had not started consecutive matches in all of 2015.
Hiddink praised the play of Mikel, saying his defensive presence in the midfield works well to balance out the creative players such as Oscar and Willian. The manager also said he was happy his players did “the dirty work” needed to get wins.
If we have three very creative players [in midfield] … it’s possible but in this league, it’s difficult. That’s why we look for the balance. John Obi is the ideal player to bring balance back to the team.
Previously Chelsea conceded a lot of goals and you can say that the four defenders are not going their jobs. But if the team is not willing to defend well, or does not have the right balance, then you concede a lot of goals. John Obi can recover the ball and he reads the game very well. A player who can defend so smoothly, for me, is beautiful to see.
We don’t need to add a lot to the quality of the players. When they get the ball, they know how to play. But they have to know that once things are not going as wished, we have to look for causes. That is why we started working. The very talented players, they start working to invest in what I call the ‘dirty work’ and not just the beautiful game that they can play.
Mikel completed 78 of his 82 pass attempts against Palace, and was the only player on the pitch to gain possession more times than he lost it. After the match, Chelsea supporters sang his name from the stands.
With the poor form of Nemanja Matic this season, Hiddink looks to have found a solution in Mikel. With just six goals in more than 350 appearances for the Blues, you will rarely see his name on the scoresheet, but his presence on the pitch is undeniable.