It wasn’t straightforward for Chelsea at St. Mary’s on Saturday. There were always going to be questions asked of their solidarity.
However, the Blues did prevail in the end, despite a major mistake by their young left-back Baba Rahman. The Ghanaian international attempted a header that went wayward and allowed Southampton’s Shane Long to score in the dying minutes of the first half.
The effort was completely misguided and left Courtois with little choice but to charge out of his goal. To Long’s credit, the finish was superb, chipped neatly into the goal past the charging Belgian keeper.
For Chelsea, it was completely disheartening to give up a goal of that nature, given they had made such progress in the second part of the half. The youngster made a large mistake and the Blues paid the price.
However, instead of sticking with the Ghanaian, in effort to preserve his confidence, Guus Hiddink opted to make a change, deploying Kenedy in that position in the second half.
It wasn’t the first time the Brazilian found himself in this position, having played there under Jose Mourinho against Norwich City earlier in the season.
The impact of the Dutchman’s decision was immediate. The Blues had much more of a solid look at the back, and Kenedy was strong in possession.
Either way, the choice to substitute Rahman will bring up several talking points.
Perhaps it depicts how far from a finished product the Ghanaian left-back truly is.
Maybe it depicts Kenedy as quite the adaptable young talent. The young Brazilian certainly deserves more of a chance to make an impact as he is always incisive when he comes into a match.
It even questions how far off Miazga is from being ready to be tested in the heart of Chelsea’s defense. While this may more unrealistic, it certainly has to be a consideration with Terry and Zouma injured.
However, the biggest talking point should be how effective Hiddink’s stance is with young players. The Dutchman played the situation perfectly for a number of reasons.
He’s supposed to be developing youth talent. But he can’t put that priority ahead of immediate results.
Baba Rahman was hurting the team far too much defensively. By making the change when he did, he gave his squad the chance to salvage the game and sure up the back, both of which they did.
Furthermore, he was able to help prepare another player in Chelsea’s youth ranks. Kenedy is showing himself to be a great talent and deserves any opportunity he gets, even if it’s out of position.
But perhaps the most important part of Hiddink’s approach is his transparency. He didn’t claim an injury and he didn’t sugar coat it. Rahman’s header was unacceptable and they needed to make a change.
While maybe not the most gentile, the Ghanaian knows exactly where he stands. He knows that improvement defensively has to come in order to hold down a spot in the team, despite the injury issues.
It also completely eradicates any sense of complacency that could have crept in, given his role exists due to injuries at the current time. It proves that everyone is replaceable and that poor performance isn’t acceptable, even if Hiddink has to play a player out of position to uphold that policy.
One of Mourinho’s biggest problems with the handling of youth talent is that he chose to lash out at times and then in other instances, remain tight-lipped over where players stood.
Countless times he promised Loftus-Cheek an opportunity, only it never came.
Hiddink has been nothing if not honest. He makes changes when he sees fit, isn’t afraid to give youngsters a chance, but he won’t let the team suffer in the process.
This transparency is imperative to a player’s growth and development. They can fully acknowledge where they stand, what it takes to be successful, and that while they’ll be supported, they won’t be coddled.
Regardless of who succeeds Hiddink next season, it’s imperative they continue to follow this model for Chelsea’s youngsters. Their development and future first team impact depends on it.