By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Guus Hiddink believes it is still possible for Chelsea to finish in the Premier League’s top four but has told the club’s players to have a long look in the mirror.
The Dutchman is embarking on a second stint as interim manager at Stamford Bridge and is under no illusions about the task he faces having answered Chelsea’s distress call in the wake of the decision to sack Jose Mourinho last week.
“Mathematically it is possible,” a relaxed Hiddink, who proved highly popular in 2009 when he took over from sacked Brazilian Luis Felipe Scolari, told reporters at a news conference at the club’s training base.
“If you can add up then it is possible but this league is very strong, which has been especially proven this year with all respect to the clubs at the top — Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Watford… it is amazing and refreshing.
“It means that all the teams can kill each other.”
Chelsea are in 15th place, having lost nine of their opening 17 Premier League games, 10 points behind seventh-placed Watford whom they host on Saturday at the start of a hectic Christmas schedule that also includes a clash with Manchester United.
They are 11 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Hiddink watched Chelsea’s 3-1 victory over Sunderland last weekend, the first match after Mourinho’s departure, from the stands, and was aware of booing directed at certain players whom the fans felt had contributed to Mourinho’s downfall.
He called on the whole squad to pull together.
“Yesterday I talked fully to the squad about the past,” said the 69-year-old. “I said why I was here and I want everyone to look in the mirror and be critical.
“We cannot ignore what has happened in the past but I told them to be professionals and look forward.
“There must be a great desire from the players and if they don’t have that I want them to knock on my door, then we can chat, but it might not be a long chat.”
Since signing off a successful spell by winning the FA Cup with Chelsea in 2009, Hiddink has struggled in charge of Turkey, Russian club Anzhi Makhachkalka and most recently the Netherlands whom he failed to steer to the Euro 2016 finals.
He said his return to Stamford Bridge was a surprise but that results had forced the club’s owners to make a decision.
“I shouldn’t be here halfway through the season. It means things are not going well. But anyhow, I am glad to be back. It is a few years ago I was here in a similar situation,” he said.
“Last week they were one point off the relegation places which was frightening for everyone in the club.”
Hiddink refused to rule out the possibility of his second spell as Chelsea manager lasting beyond next May.
“I have to feel inside my heart that I have that passion to work with the guys. We said let’s go to May and then we’ll see what will happen,” he said.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)