Guus Hiddink says he is confident Eden Hazard will regain the form which saw the Belgian crowned Player of the Year last season as he “smells well”.
Among the reasons cited for Chelsea’s difficulties this term is the drop in form of Hazard, the team’s playmaker-in-chief who will start Sunday’s clash with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Hiddink has not spoken at length with Hazard in an attempt to discover the source of his slump – but is confident he will soon begin firing once again.
“First of all I think Eden is very versatile, he can play in various positions. On the wing he might give his best performances,” Hiddink said.
“I haven’t experienced him as a coach in the past, but now I’ve had him just a few days because he was injured. He came back with a strong character and wanted to play. He is back in shape.
“Normally, if a player has been injured he likes to take time to get into good physical and mental shape, but he was eager to play against Watford.
“You could see when he was warming up, looking at me saying: ‘bring me on, bring me on’. That is an indication he can get back to the performance levels we are used to.
“I’m not a psychologist who tells players to come in and lie on the couch and then I assess them.
“I have short conversations in the dressing room or on the pitch. That’s when you smell how they feel and how eager they are. Eden smells well.”
The ailing Barclays Premier League champions have turned to Hiddink for a second time after naming him interim manager following the sacking of Jose Mourinho last month.
Six years ago he helped steady Chelsea in the wake of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s departure and of that squad, only John Terry and John Obi Mikel remain.
The Dutchman insists a manager has only limited influence from the bench and wants his players to take command when the whistle blows.
“This team is a bit different to 2009. I’m not going to say worse or better, but different,” Hiddink said.
“It was a bit easier last time because we weren’t down in the table and there were players with big international experience.
“Look at the spine of that team – Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel, Alex. The centre was strong. It was a different team with different personalities.
“What I’m asking now of players, is that they take the lead from central defence into midfield.
“They must demand that of each other, not just in their commitment because they’re all committed – I’ve seen their intensity in training and in games – but also tactically because you can do a lot with two or three words to your companion in front of you.
“People think we have a lot of power on the bench, but that’s not true. You can just prepare the team and make the substitutions.
“I want the players to be in charge. To compare, there were a few more guys who took that tactical lead the last time I was here. Now I’m asking these guys to take the lead.”