LONDON: Guus Hiddink will be waiting in the wings when Chelsea begin life after Jose Mourinho with a crucial Premier League clash against fellow strugglers Sunderland on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Hiddink is Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s top choice to replace the sacked Mourinho on a caretaker basis until the end of the season while he searches for a long-term successor.
The 69-year-old Dutchman met Chelsea’s directors for the first time in a London hotel on Friday but, although many reports claim Hiddink is certain to take the job, the former South Korea and Australia manager says he is still deciding whether to accept Chelsea’s offer.
“I want to get as much information as possible,” from Chelsea, Hiddink told De Telegraaf.
“The going’s lousy for Chelsea at the moment and there are reasons for that.
“I first want to fully understand these reasons before making my decision.”
Hiddink said he will not take charge of the team this weekend even if he agrees terms with the Blues.
With the majority of Mourinho’s coaching staff departing along with the Portuguese boss, that has left first-team assistant Steve Holland and former Chelsea player Eddie Newton to pick the starting line-up against Sunderland.
Chelsea can ill-afford a 10th league defeat of the season, especially against a Sunderland side only three points behind them, as the west Londoners aim to climb away from the relegation zone.
Assuming Hiddink does eventually take over, he will face a far harder task than in his previous successful spell as Chelsea caretaker boss in 2009.
Then, when he was hired after the dismissal of Luiz Felipe Scolari, he took over a battle-hardened team and steered Chelsea to FA Cup glory, while also reaching the Champions League semi-finals during his three months in charge.
But Rene Meulensteen, one of his former assistants during a spell at Anzhi Makhachkala, is confident Hiddink is the right man for the job.
“Guus has always been a modern-thinking coach but at the end of the day you still deal with humans and that is one of his biggest assets – he gets the noses of everyone in the room pointing in the same direction,” Meulensteen said.
“I am sure he will do well for Chelsea because he will be a safe pair of hands.”
Mourinho’s exit has overshadowed a big weekend in the title race as second-placed Arsenal host third-placed Manchester City on Monday, while surprise leaders Leicester City travel to Everton on Saturday.
Arsenal are two points behind Leicester and one ahead of City and a victory over Manuel Pellegrini’s side would be the perfect boost heading into the busy Christmas programme.
The Gunners’ chances of beating City would be greatly improved if Chile forward Alexis Sanchez is fit to feature after a hamstring injury and boss Arsene Wenger is cautiously optimistic.
“Maybe there is a slight chance for Alexis to be in the squad again, but it is too early to be sure about it,” Wenger said.
City seem more likely to have a key figure back in time for the Emirates Stadium showdown after Argentina striker Sergio Aguero, who has missed the last four games in all competitions, returned to full training on Wednesday following a heel problem.
Aguero’s return would be timely for City boss Manuel Pellegrini, who once again had to endure speculation this week that Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola is being lined up to replace him at the end of the season.
Guardiola has long been a target for Chelsea and has also been linked with fourth-placed Manchester United, whose manager Louis van Gaal desperately needs a win against struggling Norwich City on Saturday to silence the critics of his conservative tactics and keep pace with the leaders.
But, with just one defeat from 16 league matches, Everton manager Roberto Martinez insists overhauling Leicester will be easier said than done for all their title rivals.
“Leicester deserve to be top of the league,” Martinez said. “I think Claudio Ranieri deserves all the credit for developing the belief in that team.
“Of course they are title contenders. I don’t see why they shouldn’t be. It’s not because they are top of the league, it’s because they’ve been so competitive in every game.”