Chelsea revival no surprise to Norwich City boss Alex Neil
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Alex Neil is in no doubt Chelsea's revival owes more to the world class talent on the pitch than Jose Mourinho's exit.
Neil believes a changing of the guard at Stamford Bridge that has seen Guus Hiddink return for a second spell is not the major factor in their rapid turnaround.
“It is not about man-management for me,” he said. “I was a player not that long ago and if I was picked to play I didn’t need the manager rubbing my belly and telling me I was a good player so I would run about for him. I went out and did my job and made sure I competed and fought because my pride was at stake and I wanted to win.
“There isn’t a huge change in terms of system. It is 4-2-3-1. It boils down to having good players playing well. The wide players are wider than in the past, perhaps, they used to roll in off the line and play in those pockets. Now they are a lot wider initially and roll inside when they get the ball.
“I think they have certainly found some form compared to the start of the season and individuals are performing better than they were, that is for sure.”
Confrontational striker Diego Costa has certainly responded to Hiddink’s recent arrival, with nine goals in 14 games for the Spanish international.
“He has definitely found his form. At the start of the season Chelsea had players not performing anywhere near their capabilities,” said Neil. “Part of the game is about the physical aspect, when you compete and challenge for balls. Some players just don’t like anybody else touching them so I might be asking my lads to see how he responds. I am sure he will put himself about, like he always does. I expect Chelsea are going to try and open the pitch up, be really aggressive and attacking and it’s how we can impose ourselves.”
Norwich lost 1-0 to Mourinho’s Blues in November and Neil insists it was only a matter of time before the champions moved through the gears.
“I found it very hard to believe that a squad with their quality would be down there for that long,” he said. “I don’t remember any team who have won the Premier League then being in a relegation battle the following season so you always felt they had far too much.”
The City chief reported no fresh injury concerns on Monday afternoon following the 1-0 defeat at Leicester City. Andre Wisdom (knee) is still out and Seb Bassong and Wes Hoolahan are struggling with what Neil labelled the ‘niggles’ which saw them miss out against the Foxes while Patrick Bamford is ineligible against his parent club. City have a crucial trip to relegation rivals Swansea this weekend, but that will have no bearing on the Scot’s selection policy for the Blues.
“No, we have to look at every game now as an opportunity to get three points. We can’t dismiss the Chelsea game with a view to anything on Saturday,” he said. “If we win then Swansea becomes more a case of we would like to win there, rather than it being seen as a must-win, because we have managed to get this result.”