The introduction of Guus Hiddink had breathed new life into a Chelsea side which was threatening to capitulate before our very eyes. Luis Felipe Scolari’s inconsistent period in charge had come to end, replaced by the resilient and efficient Hiddink who had begun life as temporary Chelsea manager with a perfect start. Despite the impeccable beginning, Hiddink was insistent that he would still leave the club at the end of the season.
As the Dutchman batted off speculation left, right and centre, Chelsea continued to win games. The first of the month occurred at Fratton Park in treacherous conditions as a late Didier Drogba goal saw off Portsmouth. Drogba had been sidelined for most of the Scolari reign but Hiddink’s arrival appeared to galvanise the Ivory Coast captain, and he was rewarding his new boss’ faith with crucial goals.
Although the Blues were blighted by a season-ending injury to bit-part defender Paulo Ferreira, they were buoyed by the timely return of dynamic midfielder Michael Essien, who had been out of action since September.
Essien returned to the field during Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Coventry in the FA Cup quarter-final, where goals from that man Drogba (again) and Alex secured a place in the last four of the oldest cup competition in the world. In a routine win, the biggest cheer of the afternoon came when the Ghanaian took the field from the substitutes’ bench, as his energetic playing style had been sorely missed by both the fans and most likely Scolari, who was unable to call upon Essien for the majority of his time in charge.
‘The Train’s’ influence was proven in his first start following his recovery as Chelsea also progressed to the next round of the Champions League after edging past Juventus on aggregate. Leading 1-0 from the first-leg, Chelsea fell behind in Turin as Vincenzo Iaquinta opened the scoring inside 20 minutes. The Blues battled back and were unfortunate to be denied a goal by the officials after a Drogba free-kick appeared to cross the line before it was cleared by Gianluigi Buffon in the Juventus goal. However, in first-half injury time Chelsea did get themselves level as Essien bundled home following a long-range Frank Lampard effort.
Essien was euphoric, but that joy soon turned to worry late in the second-half. Despite the sending-off of defender Giorgio Chiellini, Juve won a penalty on 74 minutes after Juliano Belletti handballed in the box. Alessandro del Piero converted. With the Italian side winning on the night, Chelsea hit back with just minutes remaining as Drogba equalised and virtually wrapped up the tie.
Essien carried on his fine form by netting in the next game as well, a 1-0 win against Manchester City, but although the Blues were picking up points here, there and everywhere, news off the pitch wasn’t so good. The Champions League draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals was made and Chelsea were ‘rewarded’ with ties against Liverpool (again) and free-scoring Barcelona (again) in the respective rounds. Great.
Guus Hiddink had lost his perfect start as Chelsea manager with the draw against Juventus, and by the end of March he had lost his first game too. A superb Luka Modric goal for Tottenham sent Chelsea spiralling to defeat as they failed to hit back against an in-form Spurs side. Hiddink had lost his golden touch it seemed, particularly when Belletti took the field as a right-winger! Nevertheless, Chelsea were chugging along with the Spurs defeat the only stumbling block.
April would see more flamboyance from the Blues, and plenty of drama to boot.