Guus Hiddink insisted the Premier League title race is far from over after Chelsea narrowed the gap on leaders Manchester United to just four points.
Hiddink’s side responded to United’s shock 4-1 home defeat to Liverpool by beating Manchester City courtesy of Michael Essien’s first-half goal.
While the Chelsea manager acknowledged that the advantage still lies with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, who have played a game less, he said the weekend’s results could have a major impact on the eventual destiny of this year’s championship.
Hiddink said the decisive factor will be how United react to the shock of being humbled at Old Trafford by one of their fiercest rivals.
“If it was just four points it would be very close, but they have that game in hand,” Hiddink said. “But it’s clear that after yesterday’s unexpected result that the tension has come back in the league.”
“It’s a boost. But if we want to track them, we have to keep on winning. That’ll give tension at the end of the season, which is good for everyone. Every now and then you get a defeat you don’t expect. Sometimes you don’t expect it at home because you have a beautiful record at home, then all of a sudden it happens. But they’re a very experienced team,” he said.
“Let’s see how they react in the up-coming days. It’s not the first time that it’s happened, but the big teams always react. It depends on their calmness if it goes on. When you are in the driver’s seat and someone else is coming, you can get a little bit nervous,” Hiddink said.
Essien’s goal was the midfielder’s second in two starts since he returned from a knee injury, underlining the belief that the Ghanaian will have a major role to play in the closing weeks of Chelsea’s campaign.
“It was important for the team and the crowd that he came back after a long period of recovery,” Hiddink said. “We played him at Juventus and he did a good job, not just by scoring ... like today. But by being in the team gives him and us a lot of confidence, and that’s good to see. I knew before he’s very strong, and he gives a lot to the team as well. Plus, it gives me tactically some options to play differently with other players as well.”
“When we go to the end of the season, being in three competitions, having him available is important,” he said.
But a successful afternoon’s work was marred by a recurrence of Deco’s thigh injury that could keep the Portugese midfielder out for the season, although Hiddink was more optimistic about the knee injury that forced Didier Drogba off in the second half.
“I don’t think Deco will be recovered very shortly,” Hiddink said. “Drogba is not a big problem. He likes to be with the team, to play, to train, so I think he will be recovered very soon. He was in a collision, so we’ll see. Tomorrow, the day after, it’ll be okay.”
City manager Mark Hughes was forced to confront another disappointing away display, particularly from Robinho, who had been set to join Chelsea until a deadline-day swoop by Hughes lured the Brazilian to the City of Manchester Stadium.
“You can’t just expect one player to carry the team,” Hughes said. “We have other players who have to stand up to the plate and be counted. Today wasn’t Robi’s day.”
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