Hiddink defends Costa; admits Chelsea’s European chances slim

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WATFORD — Guus Hiddink was happy enough with Chelsea’s display following their 0-0 draw at Watford on Wednesday as the interim head coach is now eight games unbeaten since taking over in December.

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That said, Chelsea have continued to lose ground on the top six and a midtable finish now seems extremely likely despite an upturn in results and performances.

Watford were the happier side to grab a point as a second half onslaught saw Watford’s goalkeeper Huerelho Gomes excel to deny Branislav Ivanovic and Diego Costa.

Speaking to the press after the game at Vicarage Road a cool, calm Hiddink was asked about a major flash-point just before half time which saw Costa and Juan Carlos Paredes both booked following the latter falling to the ground clutching his face and a melee threatened to break out in front of the dugout.

For once, Coata seemed to be the victim. Hiddink agreed wholeheartedly.

“It was very clear because it was very close. It was just 10-yards from our bench. [Juan] Paredes punched Diego in his back and after that they stumbled and then Paredes brought his hands to his head and Diego was nowhere near his head,” Hiddink said. “They stumbled. I think this is something we must not do. It is provocation to get someone off the pitch. Happily the referee and also the assistant referee saw it and didn’t go into this provocation. It was a pity it happened. There was no way Diego was close to his face.”

Asked if he was annoyed by Costa constantly being targeted by opposition defenders, Hiddink gave the following response.

“This is a man’s game. Our central defenders, their central defenders, other club’s central defenders, they are big guys and they go on the edge and sometimes over the edge. That’s what it’s like when it is a man’s game but it must not be going the way of provocations. That’s what me must not do.”

ProSoccerTalk then asked the Dutchman about how difficult he rates the task of guiding Chelsea into the top six.

Hiddink singled out a journalist in the press conference who had published an article stating that the Blues needed to win all of their remaining 15 games, before the draw at Watford, to have any chance of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

“If you want to get in the top four then happily I have my assistant here who can calculate very well and you need three points to get there. Now we need 3.1 points, on average, to get there. It was 2.7 to get to fourth I think, and now we have to get to 3.1 to get into fourth place which is very difficult,” Hiddink said. “Once more I think how the team performed especially in the last part of the second half, we have to go on that part.”

If it wasn’t for two superb saves from one of Hiddink’s former players, Watford’s goalkeeper Gomes, late in the second half then the Blues would have grabbed a win which would’ve sent them to within one victory of the top eight. It’s not all doom and gloom and there are signs the attacking unit is returning to its best but Hiddink knows dreams of a top four, or even a top six finish, remain just that. A dream.

10 points off sixth-placed West Ham with 14 games to go, Chelsea can’t afford to drop many more points if they want to salvage anything from this, so far, bitterly disappointing season. 

Next up: Manchester United at home on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), which Hiddink hopes will be a “spectacle” between “two giants” of the Premier League.