Chelsea is staring down a problem they haven’t faced in years: mid-table obscurity.
As seasons hit the stretch run, there are races for certain milestone marks at the top and bottom of the tables, but many teams stuck in the middle have little to fight for, and that becomes a roadblock for managers who are looking for tangible goals to motivate their players.
With the Blues usually challenging for the Premier League every year, or at least gunning for the Champions League, they currently sit in 8th. However, as recently as the end of February, they were in the bottom half.
A brilliant run of form under Hiddink – unbeaten in league play under his leadership, dating all the way back to December 19 – has brought them momentarily out of mid-table obscurity and into a fight for a European place next year, so the idea of getting lost in the shuffle is not on the cards. But should that run come to an end and they falter, the club could fall back into the thick of the pack.
To combat that feeling, Hiddink is setting and molding his goals to match their current situation. Right now, they’re chasing a rival: Manchester United.
“Are they [Manchester United] catchable?” Hiddink said. “Well, first of all, we’re happy. It’s not Chelsea standard to be happy to be out of the relegation zone, and sit back and relax a bit.”
“We have to set new targets now with the ambition of Chelsea in the direction of Europe. We have a tight schedule -– Stoke, PSG, Everton –- and the squad is not very, very broad, so we hope everyone is on board. If everyone is available, we’d like to go as high as possible towards the European spots.”
Hiddink’s sights are becoming more and more realistic thanks to the incredible unbeaten run. They are now just five points back of Manchester United who sits in fifth, as opposed to the 11 point gap when Hiddink took over with Chelsea in 15th. The two don’t play the rest of the season with both meetings this campaign ending in draws, but the Blues have plenty of opportunities against teams above them, with Leicester City, West Ham, Manchester City, and Tottenham remaining on the schedule.