Hiddink facing colossal task to light Blues fire
Chelsea 3-1 Sunderland
Published 21/12/2015 | 02:30
At times, you could almost convince yourself everything was normal. Chelsea were winning comfortably - a "calming" victory, as Pedro later described it.
John Terry was doing that thing where he suddenly bursts forward to join the attack, like an old war veteran leaping out of his deckchair to ward off an imaginary German invasion, his cocktail umbrella brandished as a makeshift bayonet.
The fans were singing songs about Jose Mourinho. All was quiet on the west London front.
It was a pleasant enough reverie, broken only by the sound of booing: Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, mercilessly jeered as they were substituted. Or the taunting of goalscorers Pedro and Oscar.
"Where were you when we were s**t?", the Chelsea fans demanded, turning vengefully - perhaps even cathartically - on their millionaire avatars.
Up in the corporate boxes, owner Roman Abramovich watched the game, pretending not to hear.
So, not that normal after all. A week that began with open mutiny in the media ended in open mutiny on the terraces.
There were open mouths at Leicester last Monday as Mourinho declared that the players had "betrayed" his work.
Now, Pedro gave the first hints of the reaction in the dressing room. "That game was horrible for us," Pedro said. "Leicester played well. For us, it was a very s**t game."
If there was a sense of shock about seeing the club turning so viciously on itself, there was a certain familiarity, too.
This, after all, is what most clubs look like after Mourinho has finished with them: scorched, riven, pestilent. The only hope for Chelsea is that the customary post-Mourinho gag reflex will propel them upwards rather than further down: think Real Madrid's 2014 Champions League win, rather than Inter Milan's post-2010 slide into irrelevance.
The fans, Terry maintained, had a right to sing what they wanted. "They showed the loyalty they have for Jose Mourinho," he said.
"The memories he has brought to this club from 2004 and 2005 and last year - the fans will never forget that. There is obviously disappointment, and rightly so."
More than most, Terry knows how these operettas play out. He has waved 10 Chelsea managers out of the door, plus innumerable coaches and backroom staff. He knows that at Stamford Bridge, flux is stability.
"I've been here before and seen it before," he said.
"You have to move on. So there's no point in us sulking, because we could have been 17th or 18th [if Chelsea had lost].
"The manager's head is on the block. He loses his job and collectively we have to take responsibility for that."
So did Chelsea raise their game in Mourinho's absence, fuelled by a combination of remorse and exultation?
Well, yes and no. They certainly played more freely, although going 2-0 up after 13 minutes will grease anybody's wheels a little.
Credit is due to caretaker coach Steve Holland, who freed the full-backs to advance and create overlaps rather than stapling them in their own half, as Mourinho often did.
"You can't have it both ways," Holland said. "You can't hope to be part of the glory last year, but detach yourself this year.
"You saw some signs, when the confidence came back, of what the players were capable of.
"You also saw some signs of the fragility that's still there."
We should reiterate: this was Sunderland at home. Not even a good Sunderland - as their manager Sam Allardyce pointed out.
A recurring image was the sight of Duncan Watmore - one of Sunderland's few decent players along with goalscorer Fabio Borini - angrily and fruitlessly exhorting the midfield to help him press.
"I saw so many poor performances in the first half that I could have changed all the outfield players," Allardyce said.
So, a little perspective as the hobbling Guus Hiddink takes temporary charge, with rumours of a new coaching role for Didier Drogba, who sat alongside Hiddink and Abramovich on Saturday.
Like a by-the-hour quack taking on a sick patient, Hiddink will not exactly deliver lifestyle changes, but his electroconvulsive therapy may be enough for now.
"He will bring hunger to the squad, a lot of passion and a lot of fire," Terry said. "I've seen it before."
Hiddink hobbled into the dressing room after the game on Saturday to meet the players.
The size of his task is colossal. And it was underlined by the fact that not everyone was present.
Costa, according to reports, had showered and changed and was out of Stamford Bridge shortly after 5pm.
The squad may have regrouped, but not everyone is facing in the right direction just yet. (© Daily Telegraph, London)