HEALING THE RIFT

By Mark Conlon
Mar 5th, 2009

Crisis, what crisis? The swagger is back, opponents, both domestic and European, are being dispatched with a ruthless efficiency reminiscent of the back-to-back title winning seasons, and the quadruple is only a matter of months away.

Well, not quite, but four wins out of four under the stewardship of Guus Hiddink, including three clean sheets, and things are certainly looking a lot rosier than they were after the 0-0 draw at home to Hull four weeks ago.

It’s no secret that results under Luiz Felipe Scolari were a major cause for concern. However, recent performances have done nothing but add fuel to the rumours that all was not well behind the scenes during the Brazilian’s brief tenure. It was said that certain players were not happy with Scolari’s training methods, and felt they weren’t being worked hard enough. Performances at Old Trafford and Anfield did little to suggest otherwise, and Hiddink’s arrival has coincided with smiles returning to the faces of what appeared to be a split camp.

The English trio of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole made no attempt to hide the fact that they thought Scolari had been mistreated, and that a number of their handsomely-paid team-mates needed to look a little closer to home when searching for scapegoats. That’s not surprising though is it? The three aforementioned players are good, honest, dependable professionals; even if Boris Johnson was installed as their new boss, they would get their heads down, and get on with the job in hand, no arguments.

No, it was lesser players, well, lesser characters anyway, that spat their dummy’s out when things weren’t going to plan; the likes of Drogba, Anelka and Ballack, senior players that should really know better. True, the two strikers will feel that they should have been given the opportunity to play alongside each other more often, but it’s hardly a reason to start sulking and wallowing, is it? In the case of Ballack, well, you sometimes wonder what planet these players are on. Barring the final few months of last season, the German captain has done absolutely nothing to warrant his £130,000 per-week salary (nice work if you can get it, given the current economic climate), and it is surely only a lack of decent cover that has kept him in the side until now.

There can be no doubting the Dutchman’s immediate impact though, because those three have certainly stepped up to the plate in recent weeks, and solitary Drogba strikes have secured a vital three points at Portsmouth, as well as a slender lead to take to Turin, for what will be a true test of Hiddink’s well-documented tactical nous. Go for the early away goal that could kill the tie, or sit back, keep it tight, and hit them on the break; it should make for an interesting, albeit slightly nervy, evening next Tuesday.

With the zonal-marking system an unpleasant distant memory, Petr Cech seemingly on his way back to proving he is the best in the business, and the return of Ricardo Carvalho imminent, an upturn in defensive performances is surely a formality. Let’s not forget, 1-0 victories were the foundations on from which the second Premiership success was built on, and nobody was complaining then.

Michael Essien came through 90 minutes for the reserves on Monday night unscathed, and with a goal to his name, and having his energy and drive in midfield, alongside Frank Lampard, who has surely put the Gerrard / Lampard debate to bed in recent weeks, will be a massive boost to our assault on four (that’s right Fergie, four) trophies.

With a tricky, yet hardly frightening, trip to Coventry on Saturday, followed by that massive test in Turin three days later, the next week could ultimately define the rest of our season; let’s just hope the recent resurgence is a sign of things to come.

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Mark Conlon is a freelance football journalist. He collaborated with David Knight on 'The Chelsea Experience'. His work can be accessed online at www.60mins.tv, www.overtimeonline.co.uk. He also works with Chelsea legend Ron 'Chopper' Harris on a weekly blog.
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