Some Guus Have All the Luck

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Bob Quick must be looking at Guus Hiddink and wondering exactly where he went wrong.

Britain’s most hapless copper (well, this week’s candidate for the title) inadvertently revealed a few secrets about a raid on the North West. A day later, faced with widespread condemnation he lost his job in disgrace.

On the other hand, the amiable Dutchman casually told the world’s media how he was planning his own raid on the area. Now an increasing number of people are demanding that he should keep his job. Some guys have all the luck.

But anyone who watched Hiddink’s team leave one of European club football’s most revered sides of the last five years scratching their heads in bewilderment will surely know that luck had little to do with it.

This was a calculated and ruthless assault on a supposedly impregnable fortress; as comprehensive a defeat as you will see in the Champions League this season.

(Yes, I am putting my fingers in my ears and whistling loudly every time anyone says the word “Barcelona”.)

After the shambolic reign of Phil Scolari came to an abrupt end earlier this year, Hiddink brought his own brand of law and order to a Chelsea side that was perilously close to anarchic meltdown.

And during his short stay in English football, not content with restoring harmony where chaos looked set to reign, he has also set about a few of the game’s sacred cows and Sky perpetuated myths, often leaving them floundering in a heap of their own hyperbole.

Homecoming of a(nother) Geordie messiah? You should have stayed on your comfy sofa trading clichés with the other ex-footballers; as short-term jobs go, this one looks about as attractive as being Spinal Tap’s next drummer.

On Wednesday night, Guus set about the “Rafa – Tactical Genius” myth with great aplomb.

Actually, to say ‘myth’ is unkind – Benitez’s reputation as a master of European football’s holy grail is hard won and well deserved, which makes Hiddink’s achievement all the more impressive.

The Dutchman’s plan was clearly stated; we will attack. Little hint was offered as to the tactical masterclass that followed; Hiddink outthought his opposite number on every level.

The lack of Mascherano’s combative yet calming influence in midfield cost Liverpool, but it was Chelsea’s sheer presence and not his absence that made the difference on the night.

Earlier this season, it was the Chelsea faithful who were having nightmares about ‘zonal marking’. Now it is for the Kop to ponder its inherent pitfalls, having watched Branislav Ivanovic (surely now the most Googled footballer since Federico Macheda?) twice take full advantage of some truly Conference-esque defending.

And then there was the most talked about battle in the game; Gerrard vs. Essien.

Hiddink referred to the close attention paid to Liverpool’s talisman as ‘disarming their main weapon’. Possibly a polite way of saying ‘one man team’, but it pays Gerrard the ultimate compliment that he was singled out as such.

Essien’s Chelsea career has been a conundrum wrapped up inside a riddle; just what is his best position?

A reasonably convincing case can be made for him in the majority of the roles he has played for the club; until this week most Blues were of the opinion that he is least effective as a holding midfielder – not strictly the true definition of the role he played, but scripts are hastily being rewritten as I type.

His performance was as impressive as any that Claude Makelele turned in against the Liverpool captain; the fact that the Ghanaian does far more besides and still looks as though he could repeat the performance immediately after the final whistle is a genuinely exciting prospect for Chelsea’s future.

With excellent cameos from Drogba and Florent Malouda’s running, tackling and dribbling alter-ego also worthy of a mention (their work for the third goal from Ballack’s exceptional pass was both brilliant and brutally simple), less so John Terry’s questionable booking which rules him out of next week’s game, Guus’s first major test as caretaker looks to have been passed with flying colours.

The relative comfort of our away goal bonanza and a second leg on home turf leaves the optimists amongst us dreaming of a titanic semi-final battle against that team whose name we shan’t mention; for Liverpool to be facing them next month instead of us would require a plot twist as unexpected and cruel as the ‘meat and two veg’ moment in ‘The Crying Game’.

The last few days have provided confirmation – were it ever needed – of the ever-baffling nature of football. Odds overturned, reputations enhanced and diminished in the space of ninety minutes.

The Hiddink bandwagon is gradually becoming a juggernaut; eight wins, one draw, one loss and just five goals conceded. Odds on the Dutchman staying at Chelsea are slashed as the clamour for Abramovich to retain his services grows louder, while the man himself continually insists that he really is leaving in May, irrespective of what happens between now and then.

Benitez, meanwhile, having finally won hard-fought off pitch battles to stay at Anfield on his own terms, is facing the stark prospect of another season where disappointment is looking a more likely outcome than trophies; a scenario which Liverpool would surely have considered unthinkable not so long ago.

As Bob Quick and Rafa himself might tell you, some Guus really do have all the luck.