Europa League the best Chelsea can hope for, admits Hiddink
Champions’ dire season dwindling to a halt after yet another draw
Chelsea’s interim boss Guus Hiddink has targeted a place in the much-maligned Europa League as he tries to prevent his team’s season from petering out.
Chelsea showed that they have not given up on their season by fighting back for a 2-2 draw on Saturday against West Ham United, who would have moved into the Champions League places with a victory.
Cesc Fabregas twice equalised, late in each half, in a match that should have mattered less to Chelsea than West Ham.
Hiddink’s men went out of the Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain and lost in the FA Cup quarter-finals to Everton in their two previous matches.
So although the Dutchman was pleased that his team showed the desire to battle back – and maintain his own unbeaten Premier League record since returning to the club in December – he wants an improvement over the final matches.
“We have too many draws and if we had more victories we would be knocking on the door of the Champions League as West Ham are doing now, and they deserve it,” he said. “It’s a compliment to their squad and coaches.
“For us our first target in December was a soft target, by Chelsea standards, of getting out of the relegation zone as soon as possible.
“We did that in six or seven weeks with some draws and victories. Normally Chelsea has to compete for places one to four at least.
“Our target now is to see if we can get a European spot. Second, having this season’s experience, the players have to show why they are playing for a big club. Pride is also at stake when you have experiences like the first half of our season.”
Hiddink rejected suggestions that the Europa League is a competition best avoided and that his successor as manager would find it easier to rebuild without the distraction of Thursday evening matches in Uefa’s junior tournament.
“I think in sport you must get the highest position possible. The Europa League might be below the standard of Chelsea but it’s reality,” he added.
“Playing in other competitions might have benefit for the team but also the young players, to give them a sequence of many games but also a big stage.
“I’m not in favour of saying ‘Please let’s not play in the Europa League.’ Rebuilding you can do through tournaments.
“It would be difficult for me as a sportsman to calculate: ‘Let’s lose that game so we don’t go into Europe’ or say ‘Hey guys, we don’t want to go into Europe so let’s lose this game.’ It’s totally counter to professional or amateur people.”
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was angry that his team does not seem to benefit from the type of refereeing decisions that go the way of bigger clubs -- like Chelsea.
But he was happy with what their performance promised for the rest of the season.
“We are not getting those kind of decisions,” he said. “But it is great when you play really good and play a 2-2 at Stamford Bridge, home of the champions, that shows that we are moving in a very good direction.
“We could have two points more, we could be above Man City, put the pressure on them, we could make a gap on the teams below us and we deserved it.
On Saturday, West Ham had the better of the first half and took a deserved lead through Manuel Lanzini, only for an error by Winston Reid in injury time to give Chelsea a free-kick that Fabregas curled home.
Andy Carroll restored West Ham’s lead a minute after taking the field as a substitute, but Fabregas levelled again from a penalty after Chelsea substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek was tripped by Michael Antonio.