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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Chelsea's revival

Crystal palace 0-3 Chelsea

Chelsea’s Willian (r) celebrates with Diego Costa after scoring his team’s second goal against Crystal Palace. Photo: Getty Images
Chelsea’s Willian (r) celebrates with Diego Costa after scoring his team’s second goal against Crystal Palace. Photo: Getty Images

Guus Hiddink has warned Chelsea's flair players they must relish the "dirty work" to turn the Blues' season on its head.

Interim boss Hiddink tipped John Obi Mikel to spearhead a Chelsea revival, backing the Nigeria midfielder to add much-needed defensive stability to the Stamford Bridge outfit.

Hiddink warned Chelsea stars like Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian that unless they invest in their fair share of the nitty gritty "this league will kill you".

Chelsea swept past Crystal Palace 3-0 at Selhurst Park for Hiddink's first Blues victory thanks to goals from Oscar, Willian and Diego Costa, while Hazard will undergo scans today to reveal the extent of a groin injury.

"We've started working and if the team is not doing well through a long period then you have to look for security, and that's why we emphasised on good, hard work, tactically and a defensive way," said Hiddink.

"I don't like to see the team drop back very far and seek false security. When they get the ball they know to play.

"We don't need to add a lot of quality of players: they are blessed by nature with big quality.

"But they have to know when things aren't going as wished that we have to look for causes, and that's why we started working.

"The very talented players, they start working also, to invest in the dirty work and not just the beautiful game they can play, because this league is very demanding.

"And if you think you can do it just on your quality, what's more given by talent than nature, then this league will kill you."

Mikel provided the perfect buffer to Chelsea's back four to allow the likes of Cesc Fabregas and the excellent Willian to dictate the terms of the visitors' victory in south London.

A hapless Hazard trudged off after just 15 minutes with a groin problem, his struggles this season encapsulated by his 2,289-minute goal drought with Chelsea.

While Hiddink was cautious on Hazard's situation and said an MRI scan would be needed today to assess the extent of the damage, Chelsea's caretaker boss was happy to lavish praise on the resurgent Mikel.

"He played very well but also in the previous game," said Hiddink of Mikel.

"He's the ideal player in my option to bring balance to the team.

"If the team is not willing to defend well, or hasn't got the right balance, then you'll concede a lot of goals.

"I think John Obi can be one of the key figures in bringing back that balance.

"On this podium very talented players can explore their qualities.

"He can recover his radar, he reads the game very well, he knows where the strength of the opponent is and knows how to combat that. He has very good sense, he doesn't do it in a brutal way, he's very elegant.

"Someone who can defend so smoothly is very beautiful. I don't expect the decisive final pass from him - he can (do that), but he can also let the other players (play)."

Alan Pardew admitted his Palace side still crave the return to full fitness of forwards Bakary Sako, Connor Wickham and Dwight Gayle.

"When they got the goal you could see their spirit lift and ours diminish," said Pardew.

"And there you see the story of the game. In fact we went away from our game plan and started forcing things.

"So that sometimes is what happens when you're not scoring goals.

"Fortunately I think Sako will be up and ready for Southampton, (Yohan) Cabaye will be back, and hopefully Connor can be ready for Villa.

"Gayley's not far away too. His presence would have worried Chelsea. I don't want to moan about our injuries, that's a fact of any season.

"Chelsea deserved to win today."

It was one year to the day that Pardew was appointed Palace manager and the clubs' respective reversal in fortunes since then remains remarkable given this time last year Chelsea sat top and the Eagles were in the relegation zone.

The teams' overall trajectories remain but Chelsea will take great confidence from a win that moves them up to 14th and demonstrated that European football may still not be out of reach.

Suitably it was the three players arguably who struggled most under Jose Mourinho involved, as Cesc Fabregas slid a superb through ball into Costa, who pulled the ball back for Oscar to tap home his second goal in four games.

Palace looked vulnerable but their best chance of an equaliser came just before the hour as Campbell played Zaha into the penalty area but the forward scuffed his finish harmlessly into the hands of Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

It proved a decisive moment as one minute later a loose ball spilled out to Willian and the winger rifled it into the top corner from 25 yards to double Chelsea's advantage.

Having come close to being drawn level, the Blues were suddenly in control and six minutes later they put the game to bed as Willian's shot was weakly parried by Hennessey, allowing Costa to poke in his third goal in two games.

Palace were shell-shocked and it could have been worse at the end as Oscar saw a goal-bound shot blocked.

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