West Ham boss Slaven Bilic has lauded Guus Hiddink’s influence in stabilising Chelsea ahead of his side’s trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Bilic’s early management career and Hiddink’s latter roles have intertwined. Bilic’s Croatia met Hiddink’s Russia and Turkey teams, while the two locked horns in Russia’s domestic league when the Croat was in charge of Lokomotiv Moscow and the Dutchman was at Anzhi Makhachkala.
Now they meet in the Premier League for the first time after Hiddink’s appointment as Chelsea interim boss in December.
Hiddink has guided Chelsea into the top half of the table after a woeful start to the season under Jose Mourinho, who was sent off when the Blues lost 2-1 at Upton Park in October as the Hammers claimed one of a number of notable scalps in an impressive campaign which could yet conclude with qualifying for the Champions League.
Bilic said: “I know him well. I didn’t see him or speak to him, but I’m looking forward to seeing him big time. He’s a legend in this business and he’s doing well with Chelsea now.
“He’s done a good job. He’s stabilised the club.”
Like many, Bilic traces the troubles of last season’s Premier League champions to August 8 and the opening-day draw with Swansea, the repercussions of which are ongoing. Former first-team doctor Eva Carneiro is pursuing claims against Chelsea and Mourinho at an employment tribunal after leaving Chelsea last September in the wake of an incident at the end of that game.
“I don’t know what really happened to them. They didn’t start well and from the beginning of the season,” Bilic said.
“Straight after that first game at Swansea at home, it was 2-2. You could feel negativity.
“They had the keeper (Thibaut Courtois) sent off in that game and their second or third game was Man City away when they lost 3-0. It’s Man City away, it can happen.
“Straight away it was shock and negativity. And they didn’t get out of that, basically the whole of this time.
“It’s very hard to work and to play under those circumstances. If you don’t have a good atmosphere around you, it makes it difficult, or kind of impossible, to have a good season.”
Chelsea are 10th with nine games to play after climbing from perilously close to the relegation zone a week before Christmas.
West Ham are fifth, two points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, and take their quest for the top four and Champions League qualification to Chelsea.
Bilic refuses to underestimate the Blues, who were knocked out of the Champions League and FA Cup last week.
“We know they’re going to try to make it up in the Premier League, starting with the game against us on Saturday and we are well prepared for that,” he added.
“They have brilliant individuals. They are very strong, very skilful. When they catch you on the break, their pace and quality is there.
“We will again have to be on the top of our game to get anything out of that game.”