Byline: James Olley
CHELSEA 1 MAN CITY 0
THERE are not many qualities Guus Hiddink has left to prove in a glittering managerial career, but rotating a Chelsea squad battling on three fronts for silverware represents a challenge that stands among the toughest he has ever faced.
Of course, the fact that he has this problem at all is testament to the fine start he has made at Stamford Bridge, where the Blues yesterday maintained his 100 per cent Premier League record with an authoritative 1-0 victory over Manchester City.
But it was a dilemma that ultimately did for Claudio Ranieri -- earning him the soubriquet 'Tinkerman' -- a stick that critics of Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez use to beat him with and is a shortcoming of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal squad that they simply aren't strong enough to mix and match.
Until Saturday's mauling by Liverpool, Sir Alex Ferguson had shuffled the pack yet still produced aces every time this season and Hiddink must show he can do the same with the galaxy of stars now at his disposal.
Michael Essien and Ricardo Carvalho have returned in time for the run-in, Didier Drogba's injury is only a minor one and although Deco is unlikely to play again this season, the temporary boss has a plethora of options with which to attack the three remaining trophies on offer.
"Being in the team gives Michael and us a lot of confidence and that's good to see," said Hiddink. "I knew before he's very strong and he gives a lot to the team as well. Plus, tactically, it gives me some options to play differently.
"When we go to the end of the season, being in three competitions, having him available is important. It was good to see Ricardo and Michael playing for 90 minutes. I want to have Ricardo fit, also, given the games we have coming."
Chelsea's football was majestic at times and when Frank Lampard's spontaneity combined with Essien's stunning execution after 18 minutes, the consequence was irresistible.
The England midfielder spotted his team-mate in space and played a quick free-kick which Essien swivelled on to strike first-time past Shay Given.
Much has been made of where Liverpool would stand in the title race had Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, who tore United apart on Saturday, been able to start more than nine of 28 League games so far together.
But the same could be said of Chelsea and Essien, who made only his third League start this season and in tandem with Lampard, he was the catalyst of all that was good for the Blues yesterday, even if they struggled to kill City off.
It is conceivable that Luiz Felipe Scolari would still be in a job had he been able to call upon Essien's steel and drive. Liverpool's victory at Old Trafford has "opened the door a little bit" according to Hiddink but he refused the opportunity to turn up the heat on Sir Alex Ferguson by entering into any mind games with the United boss. …