Guus Hiddink hopes Eden Hazard can inspire a Chelsea revival ahead of the first game of his second spell in charge against Watford.
Veteran Dutch coach Hiddink has been brought in to oversee a salvage job at Stamford Bridge after this season’s wretched Premier League title defence under Jose Mourinho saw the Portuguese pay with his job.
Last week’s comfortable 3-1 win over Sunderland, under caretaker boss Steve Holland as Hiddink looked on from the stands, has eased scarcely believable concerns over relegation in west London.
But Chelsea will now look to climb their way towards a more familiar place in the standings by stringing run of positive results together and Hiddink believes Belgium star Hazard has a vital role to play.
Hazard swept the board in the end-of-season awards last term after numerous sublime performances during Chelsea’s Premier League and League Cup triumphs.
His fortunes have declined as rapidly as his team-mates this time around, though, with the 24-year-old yet to find the net in 24 club appearances.
“He had a terrific season last year and its normal to have a little setback,” Hiddink said at Wednesday’s pre-match news conference.
“He can be a key player when he is with the Belgium national team, but also here he can be a key player when he gets back in shape.
“He was unlucky to be injured recently but with him he needs to get that eagerness to perform back.”
Hazard hobbled out of the 2-1 loss to leaders Leicester City that ultimately concluded Mourinho’s second coming at Chelsea, although he has now recovered from his hip problem.
The similarly off-colour Radamel Falcao is the only remaining absentee for Chelsea due to a muscle injury, denying him a reunion with former Atletico Madrid boss Quique Sanchez Flores.
Flores has steered Watford to seventh in the table on a highly impressive Premier League return by the club.
They are aiming for a fifth consecutive Premier League win when they travel to Chelsea and centre-back Craig Cathcart reports that confidence is understandably riding high after last weekend’s 3-0 victory over Liverpool.
“No matter who we play against, as long as everyone keeps doing their jobs, then there’s no reason why we can’t keep picking up wins over this Christmas period,” he told the Watford Weekend Preview Show.
Watford entertain Tottenham on Monday and Cathcart added: “We know Chelsea are a top team with quality players all over the pitch, and with a new manager coming in it might give them a fresh impetus to perform.
“So we will be going there expecting an extremely tough game, but we’re confident we can pick up a result and hopefully that’s what we’ll do.”
Cathcart’s fellow defender Sebastian Prodl could feature for the first time since October following a calf problem, although long-term victim Joel Ekstrand (knee) is targeting a new-year return.
Key Opta Stats:
– Chelsea have won seven and lost none of the last eight meetings with Watford in all competitions.
– The reigning champions are unbeaten in the Premier League on Boxing Day since 2003, winning six and drawing four matches since then.
– Watford have already equalled the points tally from their previous Premier League season in 2006-07 (28).
– Odion Ighalo has scored in each of Watford’s past four games and could become the club’s first player to score in five consecutive Premier League matches.
– Hiddink lost just once in his previous spell in charge of Chelsea across all competitions (P22 W16 D5 L1).