Hiddink dreaming of Wembley
Guus Hiddink's arrival at Chelsea has injected unexpected life into the Premier League title race but the Dutch manager is well aware of the importance of the FA Cup to his new club's season.Updated: Mar 06, 2009, 11:39 IST
Guus Hiddink's arrival at Chelsea has injected unexpected life into the Premier League title race but the Dutch manager is well aware of the importance of the FA Cup to his new club's season.
The competition has often figured low on the list of priorities for Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United in recent years, with greater emphasis placed on success in the domestic championship or the Champions league.
But despite overseeing a run of three league victories that has reminded the league leaders there is still a chasing pack, the manager is unwilling to pass up any opportunity to deliver a trophy to Stamford Bridge and prevent the club once again ending the season empty-handed.
And while the prospect of next week's Champions League trip to Italy to face Juventus will certainly influence some elements of the Dutchman's team selection for this weekend's quarter-final at Coventry City, there appears to be little risk of Hiddink allowing for complacency against Championship opponents.
Victory at the Ricoh Stadium will secure a place in the semi-finals and maintain a winning run that extends back to the 4-1 victory at Watford in the previous round, a game Hiddink watched from the stands before formally taking up his post as caretaker manager until the end of the season.
Four single goal victories have followed that game, with the new man in charge helping create a confidence that had disappeared under predecessor Luiz Felipe Scolari. And Hiddink is well aware of the value maintaining that winning habit.
"It is important in this country to be there (the final) in May," said Hiddink. "And it is not only here, it is worldwide. When I was was in other countries people were talking were talking about the Premier League, which is very important for us as well."
The manager will certainly want to avoid a replay and with his side taking only a slender 1-0 lead into their second leg clash with Juventus 72 hours later, will undoubtedly crave victory with the minimum of fuss.
However a toe injury to Nicolas Anelka has created a dilemma. The French striker missed the midweek victory over Portsmouth, is rated extremely doubtful for the clash with Coventry and is by no means certain to be fit for Juventus.
Hiddink will be anxious not to rush Anelka back, yet that places a greater responsibility on the rejuvenated Didier Drogba.
The Ivorian scored his second goal in three games at Portsmouth and his improved form has been a feature of Hiddink's regime but an injury to the striker this weekend could leave Chelsea desperately short of firepower in Turin, especially if Anelka is sidelined.
More frustrating to Hiddink was the news that full-back Ashley Cole spent the early hours of Thursday morning in a police cell following his arrest for being drunk and disorderly after a night out with captain John Terry.
Chelsea have yet to reveal whether they will be taking further action against the England international but the highly professional manager is unlikely to have been impressed.
Coventry currently sit mid-table in the second tier but will go into the tie boosted by their defeat of Premier League Blackburn Rovers in the last round and a recent run of six games without defeat that was ended this week by Sheffield United.
They will also take heart from the fact that their Championship rivals Barnsley sprung a shock by knocking Chelsea out at the same stage of the competition this time last year.
For manager Chris Coleman, though, the visit of Hiddink's side has proved an unwelcome distraction. "If we won the FA Cup, it doesn't get us to where we want to be," he said. "The only way to get us where we want to be is via the league and that is the most important thing for this club.
"Everyone I talked to in the days building up to Sheffield United was saying, 'Good luck for Chelsea'. I was thinking, 'We've got Sheffield United on Wednesday'."