Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink has told everyone at the club to accept they are in a Premier League relegation battle.
The reigning champions are only six points above the bottom three having been held to a 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday.
That result continued a season of struggle for the west London club and Hiddink fears that unless Chelsea can get positive results in the next two fixtures at home to Everton on Saturday and away at Arsenal a week on Sunday, they face a fight for top-flight survival.
“It’s a very realistic view,” he said when asked if his side were in a relegation battle at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground on Friday.
“It is twelve points to fourth, that’s Tottenham.
“We all like to look up to the top of the table but don’t be unrealistic when you’re six points off the relegation line. That’s also a fact,” added the Dutchman, in his second stint as caretaker Chelsea boss after Jose Mourinho was sacked last month.
“We must work hard and be very concentrated and step up. That’s why it was a pity about the 86th minute equaliser we conceded against West Brom.
“When I arrived, we started one point off the relegation line and now we have more room to breathe.
“We have two difficult games coming up. Everton, a very good away record, and then Arsenal. If you don’t gather points, you don’t know what the others do.”
Hiddink, who has been linked with a move for Brazil striker Alexandre Pato, believes Chelsea will find the January transfer market difficult as a result of uncertainty over their future and over who runs the team when his contract expires at the end of the season.
“It’s a realistic view and Chelsea has to deal with it,” he said. “Also in a new setting there may be influence of the new staff and manager, etc. There are question marks for Chelsea and the ‘yes-or-nos’ to come in.
“Are things on hold? I think so.”
– Costa ‘on the edge’ –
Meanwhile, Hiddink defended striker Diego Costa who lost his cool on Wednesday.
The Spaniard was booked for a challenge on Craig Gardner and later took his frustrations out on a wall in the tunnel. Hiddink insisted he did not cross the line.
“This referee Anthony Taylor didn’t want to send off anyone,” he said. “It reminds me of the fourth official Jon Moss who unarmed me fully. I told him he (Taylor) was one of the worst referees of the Premier League and he said: ‘No, you haven’t seen me yet’.
“He (Costa) is playing on the edge but also the opponents are provoking with little things when the game is going on. You see little things, little touches, it’s mutual. Nevertheless, he should control it. He wasn’t out of order but he was on the edge.
“On Wednesday, there wasn’t a reason to send him off.
“Sometimes you don’t have to tell everything as a manager.
“I talk to him this morning for a few minutes. The opponents like to provoke, it’s normal in a men’s game. I will defend my players, especially when they are hot, saying we have self-control not damaging ourselves and the team but there are always delicate provocations.
“I was a plumber and a builder and I checked the wall out. I didn’t see anything. Only scratches on a plastic wall, that’s all. It was an expression of frustration, not winning, no big deal.”
Chelsea are again without Eden Hazard for the Everton fixture although he should be fit for the Arsenal game but Radamel Falcao remains sidelined. – Agence France-Presse