Hiddink urges Chelsea to play for pride
While Chelsea are effectively marking time until the end of the season, their visit to Aston Villa on Saturday brings them into confrontation with a club that this week attempted to jolt life into a disastrous campaign.
Villa, rooted at the foot of the Premier League and 12 points adrift of safety, dismissed boss Remi Garde just four months after the Frenchman was installed in place of Tim Sherwood.
Both clubs are now looking for a new manager, with Chelsea still to confirm whether Italy coach Antonio Conte will be the permanent successor to Jose Mourinho who was dismissed in December.
The appointment of Guus Hiddink as interim manager has brought stability and the Blues will travel to Villa Park hoping to maintain their 14-game unbeaten league run since the Dutchman took charge.
At this stage of the season, Chelsea would usually be embroiled in a fight for silverware on several fronts.
However, their exit from the Champions League and the FA Cup means there will be no silverware coming to Stamford Bridge this season, with the club having an outside chance of qualifying for next season’s Europa League.
But Hiddink urged his players to show pride and ensure they don’t switch off in the closing weeks.
“First of all we want to get the maximum out of the team regarding the league table, to get the best position possible,” Hiddink said.
“But also we appeal to the players to say hey, you are a big club which has had a very difficult season and is recovering step by step.
“We are unbeaten in the league so far, and when you play as a big club in a difficult situation, you must have pride as well.”
– Chaotic season –
Chelsea striker Diego Costa is suspended but Radamel Falcao will return to the squad for the first time in five months.
Villa moved to sack Garde on Tuesday after just 147 days in charge, with first-team coach Eric Black handed the reins on a temporary basis.
The chaotic season has turned the focus on owner Randy Lerner who is keen to sell the club, but Doug Ellis, the previous owner, maintains he would sell the club to the American again even knowing what he knows now.
“Yes, I would,” the 92-year-old told BBC Radio 5 live. “When I did the deal with Randy, he made it clear he wouldn’t be able to come to many matches and he certainly hasn’t.
“I said I’d be there for him at any time because I left £20 million in for new players. Consequently he hasn’t asked.”
Lerner has come under fresh scrutiny for not providing funds for Garde during the transfer window.
And the owner has faced renewed criticism for his handling of the club by the protest group ‘Out The Door On 74’, who are behind the move by Villa fans to protest against his regime by leaving the last two home matches after 74 minutes – marking the club’s formation in 1874.
The group said in a statement: “He was hung out to dry by Mr Lerner.
“The January window slammed shut with zero investment provided, not a single player joined a squad that had finally shown some mettle but was still woefully short of both consistent quality and numbers.”
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